Windy City promises renewable future


Zoë Haworth

Windy City promises renewable future

By Jackie Murray

Chicago may soon have some of its public buildings operating  on 100 percent clean energy—perhaps as soon as 2025, according to an April 9 press release from the mayor’s office.

This new energy initiative  will make Chicago the largest major city in the U.S. to have public buildings operating exclusively on renewable energy, the mayor’s office said.

According to the press release, the plan includes Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, Chicago Housing Authority, Fleet and Facility Management and the City Colleges of Chicago. These organizations’ buildings collectively amount to 8 percent of all electricity use in Chicago—equivalent to the power of 295,000 homes. 

“[It] will help Chicago serve as a hub for Midwest clean energy ecosystems,” said Elizabeth Kocs, director of Programming, Outreach, Research and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Initiative. “This is not uncommon for Chicago to take the lead in something that is green, sustainable and even clean energy.” 

Not only will the initiative help the environment, it will also help stabilize energy costs and create jobs by putting renewable energy sources on the city’s property, said MeLena Hessel, policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Protection Center.

“[If] CPS puts solar panels on a neighborhood school, that will  stabilize the school’s energy costs [because] they will be generating energy and create some local construction jobs,” Hessel said. “But, it will also create opportunities for hands-on learning for students [by] demonstrating the opportunity of solar to folks in the neighborhood [and] making it much more tangible.” 

Kocs agreed that the move toward cleaner energy is critical for the advancement of research and economic development. The initiative will help  increase innovation and deployment of clean technologies, she added. 

“We’re seeing some big shifts in the energy mix that we have in all parts of the country and globally,” said Aaron Durnbaugh, director of Sustainability for Loyola University. “If [corporations and government units] can make long-term commitments to buying from clean sources, they cannot only get a good price for electricity compared to what they’re currently paying, but it can help them plan longer term for what the costs of their electricity will be.”

The city and country can continue to make progress by addressing their fossil fuel use, he said, adding that fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors to global climate change and that pollution in one place affects the entire environment.

“We have to remember the atmosphere doesn’t stop at city line and state lines or on a national boundary,” Durnbaugh said. “When you put pollution into the atmosphere, it’s not like it just stays where that place of combustion was. It travels around.” 

In order to cut back on fossil fuel emission, the country has to change its use of transportation and minimize its carbon footprint, which Durnbaugh said it is not doing aggressively enough. The city can help by finding ways to educate citizens on how they can reduce their own carbon footprint, he added. 

“There’s still so much more efficiency, fuel switching or other strategies that need to be made in transportation,” Durnbaugh said. “If we really want to address climate change, we can’t leave any of these sectors [behind] just because we are going to do clean energy and electricity.”