Chicago’s Plan for 100 Percent Clean Municipal Electricity

Sawyer Bengtson on Unsplash

The city of Chicago took an important step forward this week in the transition toward clean electric buildings. The mayor’s office announced its agreement to purchase renewable electricity for all city facilities and operations, making fundamental progress on its Climate Action Plan commitment to power all city-owned buildings with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025. 

The agreement allows Constellation Energy to source 300 megawatts of electricity—representing approximately 70 percent of municipal electricity consumption—from a solar energy installation, dubbed the Double Black Diamond Solar Project, that is being developed by Swift Current Energy in downstate Illinois’s Sangamon and Morgan counties. The city plans to source the remaining 30 percent of its municipal electricity consumption from renewable energy certificates (RECs), which are procured from wind and solar through the Illinois Power Agency’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) “self-direct” credit program.

Leadership through local investment and collaboration

Sourcing energy from a project being built in Illinois follows through on the city’s commitment to ensure the contract supports the creation of new renewable projects and clean energy jobs in Illinois. The project is estimated to create more than 970 new jobs during its 12- to 18-month construction period and more than $71 million in tax revenue for the state over the 35-year life of the project. The city’s agreement includes commitments to meet minimum standards for equity-eligible workforce participation, use project labor agreements, and meet prevailing wage requirements, aligning with the provisions in the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. An equitable co-benefits fund will support Chicago’s community climate infrastructure and workforce development.

Chicago’s leadership by example is underscored by the collaboration that made this agreement possible, including with American Cities Climate Challenge partners RMI and the World Resources Institute. As the city further decarbonizes its grid, buildings, and transportation sectors in line with its Green Recovery Agenda, community partnerships will be incredibly important to ensure that energy access and climate resilience are meaningful to Chicagoans across the city.

Renewable electricity’s role in the clean buildings transition

Sourcing 100 percent of our electricity needs from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind is critically important for slashing carbon emissions in Chicago’s buildings, but clean electricity must be paired with the elimination of fossil fuel use in buildings to see real improvements in emissions and air quality. Eighty-two percent of Chicago’s buildings currently burn fossil fuels like gas for space heating, water heating, cooking, and other purposes.

The burning of fossil fuels in buildings results in the release of carbon emissions and toxic indoor air pollutants that are harmful to human health and increase the risk of asthma for vulnerable populations, such as pollution-burdened communities and children. Clean electricity won’t be enough to stop climate change and to address these public health concerns. Weatherizing homes and replacing fossil fuel–powered appliances with efficient electric appliances—that take advantage of clean electricity sources, like heat pumps and induction stoves—is key to success. Now that Chicago has shifted its municipal electricity to renewable sources, Chicago is in an ideal position to reduce carbon emissions by electrifying 90 percent of its municipal buildings by 2035, as committed in its Climate Action Plan.

The next step for Chicago will be to move forward on policies that eliminate fossil fuel use in new and existing buildings, both city-owned and community-wide, by electrifying all fossil fuel–powered end uses. Prioritizing this transition in public housing and in low-income communities is especially important, since low-income communities disproportionately experience the harmful effects of indoor air pollution from fossil fuel appliances. With less than eight years to reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent, as scientists stress is necessary to reach our 2030 climate goals, action today to eliminate fossil fuel use in buildings will be crucial to meeting these goals.

We celebrate this major step forward in the transition to clean buildings and the role this plays in creating a healthier, more sustainable Chicago. 

John Jacobsen on Unsplash

About the Authors

Valeria Rincon

Schneider Fellow, Midwest Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Megan Ross

Northeast City/State Advocate, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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