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Spotlight on Innovation: Sustainable Finger Lakes

Tompkins County

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Clean Energy & Equity for Ithaca LMI Tenants with Gas Utilities

Sustainable Finger Lakes (SFLX) is a community-based organization in Ithaca seeking to better understand and address the challenges landlords and tenants face when electrifying rental units.


“Low-income tenants in small, 1–4-unit rental buildings are at greatest risk of being left behind if we don’t find ways to overcome the split incentive and win the cooperation of landlords.”
– Gay Nicholson, Founder and President, Sustainable Finger Lakes

When homeowners invest in energy efficiency measures and new equipment, they are the direct beneficiaries. When tenants pay the energy bills and landlords pay for equipment improvements, there is less motivation for the building owners to invest in energy efficiency. This lack of motivation leads to what’s called a “split incentive barrier,” leaving low- to moderate-income tenants with aging fossil fuel systems and poorly insulated homes.

Proposed Solution

SFLX will conduct a heat pump pilot study to learn about and address the split incentive barrier. To conduct the study, SFLX will recruit and incentivize landlords of 1–4-unit rentals that house low- to moderate income (LMI) tenants to replace fossil fuel heating equipment with cold-climate air source heat pumps.

SFLX will work with and support the landlords and tenants throughout the electrification process. SFLX will also implement tenant cost protections to ensure that the costs of heat pumps and efficiency improvements are not being passed onto LMI tenants.

By specifically working with LMI households, Sustainable Finger Lakes intends to increase access to options for clean energy, improved air quality, and comfort by promoting heat pump installations.

Project Timeline

Initiation: October 2022

Expected Completion: October 2024

Goals and Objectives


Provide equipment incentives to landlords who agree not to raise rents to cover energy improvements.


Ensure that 100 lower-income rental units are properly air sealed and insulated and then transitioned from fossil gas equipment to air source heat pumps.


Learn how to most effectively engage landlords and tenants during building electrification, addressing landlord skepticism and tenant heat pump education.


Gather and analyze energy consumption data from utility bills.


Include a public storytelling component that shares landlord and tenant experiences through news media, social media, and newsletters.

Read about other building carbon decarbonization solutions.

Visit NYSERDA’s Innovative Market Strategies program page.