Providence City Hall

Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly. Where we take on huge problems, like the future of our planet, and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

We’ve talked in past episodes about how cities, states and even countries are setting targets to reduce their carbon emissions. Our home city of Providence, Rhode Island has set the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. And recently, the city government passed a new ordinance to help it meet that goal. 

Juliana Merullo and Nat Hardy from our Possibly team are here to tell us more. 

Juliana Merullo: Hiya Megan! 

Nat Hardy: Hey!

Megan Hall: So what is this new ordinance? 

Juliana Merullo: Basically, the city created a law that says all municipal buildings in Providence have to be carbon neutral by 2040. 

Megan Hall: Got it. Can you define some terms for me? What counts as a municipal building?

Nat Hardy: That just means buildings that are owned by the city. We’re talking about just over 120 structures. More than 30% of them are public schools. 

Megan Hall: And how does a building become carbon neutral? 

Nat Hardy: In practical terms for this ordinance, it means that the city’s buildings have to be powered entirely by electricity. And that electricity has to come from sources that don’t create greenhouse gasses. 

Juliana Merullo: To find out more about what that process actually looks like, we spoke with Priscilla De La Cruz. She’s the Director of Sustainability for the City of Providence. Priscilla says it will take a few steps to make Providence’s municipal buildings carbon-neutral. 

Priscilla: “The first step is making sure that these buildings are as efficient as possible. 

Nat Hardy: So, The city will start by doing energy audits of the buildings. They’ll look for how to use LESS energy by doing things like improving the insulation and sealing air leaks. 

Priscilla: And then you look at how is this building being heated or cooled right, is it on oil? Is it on gas? What are the alternatives? 

Juliana Merullo: Then they’ll try to figure out how cheaply and quickly they can run the buildings on electricity.

Nat Hardy: One of the biggest challenges will be changing the way the city heats its buildings.  They’ll have to replace furnaces that rely on oil and gas with an electric option… heat pumps!

Juliana Merullo: Using electricity to  heat and cool the buildings will reduce their carbon emissions, especially if the electricity is coming from renewable sources.

Nat Hardy: The state already set a goal to power the entire grid with renewable energy by 2033! The city is counting on that to make its buildings carbon-neutral.

Megan Hall: Does this city law only apply to the buildings that already exist? 

Juliana Merullo: Nope! The ordinance also addresses new municipal buildings: 

Priscilla: We will not be connecting any new buildings to fossil fuel systems like oil and 


Juliana Merullo: All these changes will cost a lot of money, but there are federal funds available to help. 

Nat Hardy: The Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, include money for cities trying to reduce their carbon emissions. 

Priscilla: that is something that we are collaborating day in and day out across city departments and really looking at the funding that’s out there and try to maximize how much of that we bring in to meet the requirements under this carbon neutral ordinance.

Megan Hall: Ok, but there are so many buildings in Providence that aren’t owned by the city. Do they also have to be carbon neutral by 2040? 

Juliana Merullo: This ordinance doesn’t affect privately owned buildings. But Priscilla wants the city to lead by example. 

Priscilla: With the city being able to show “Hey, we are already doing this with our buildings, there’s so much federal funding available, and resources you can tap into, it can be done.” So really showing what that pathway is for building owners.

Nat Hardy: 70% of Providence’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its buildings, both municipal and private. So even if the municipal buildings aren’t the biggest chunk of that, it’s still an important first step. 

Megan Hall: Doing all this by 2040 is still pretty ambitious though, right? 

Nat Hardy: Totally, but Priscilla says it’s also achievable. And unlike past resolutions, this ordinance has some teeth to it. 

Juliana Merullo: Different city departments will have to report each year on the progress they’re making towards this target, and what their plans are for the following year. 

Nat Hardy: Cities are going to play an important role in addressing the climate crisis. If we really want to slow the effects of climate change, we’re going to have to be ambitious! 

Megan Hall: Got it! Thanks Juliana and Nat! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about how your choices affect our planet, go to Or, find us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or X at  “askpossibly” Possibly is a co-production of the Public’s Radio, Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society, and the Brown Climate Solutions Initiative.

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