Chicago’s Mayor: 900 Public Buildings to Go 100% Renewable

More than 900 municipal buildings in Chicago will shift to “100 percent renewable energy” by 2025 under a sweeping plan unveiled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) late last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Mayor Emanuel announced Chicago’s new commitment on the rooftop of Shedd Aquarium, which has installed over 900 solar panels in an effort to reduce energy use by 50 percent by 2020. As a member of Mayor Emanuel’s Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge, Shedd Aquarium has also retrofitted nearly 1,000 of its own light bulbs to LED and installed a 60,000 pound, on1-MW battery on its own property.

“As the Trump administration pulls back on building a clean energy economy, Chicago is doubling down,” Mayor Emanuel said. “By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st century economy here in Chicago.”

Cumulatively, Chicago’s public buildings – the Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges, Chicago Park District field houses, and buildings owned by the city and the Chicago Housing Authority – consume 8 percent of the electricity used in the Windy City, according to city officials. In 2016, that amounted to nearly 1.8 billion kWh.

Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising to make the switch to all renewable energy, although he isn’t saying how much he’s prepared to spend to make that happen, the local news outlet said.

In addition, City Hall’s Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Wheat wouldn’t say how many of the 900 buildings will have space for “on-site generation,” nor provide specifics on costs, according to the report by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We’ve estimated that the cost in total would be less than a 1 percent increase in total energy costs for the city and the agencies that are participating,” Wheat told the newspaper. “As we find opportunities to actually build out wind and solar on public properties, we’ll actually see savings associated with that, which, over the long term, will actually cover the cost associated with buying renewable credits…. But that will take time.”

Wheat acknowledged that there will be short-and long-term costs and said Emanuel is “not making any commitments on capital outlay at this time.”

What we do know is that the Emanual Administration has said that the 900 government buildings will accomplish the shift through a variety of strategies – among them:

The City Colleges already have installed solar panels on the roofs of Richard J. Daley College and the Dawson Technical Institute. Those installations have generated more than $16,000 in energy savings, officials told the Sun-Times.

“Today’s action is a historic step forward in establishing Chicago as a clean energy leader,” Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin commented in a formal statement.  “While President Trump and his administration would reverse America’s progress on climate change and clean energy, Mayor Emanuel is ensuring that Chicago will move forward, and that its residents will benefit from the good jobs and cleaner air that come from renewable energy projects.  We look forward to working with the Mayor, community leaders, and the people of Chicago to achieve this bold goal on the path to eventually powering all of Chicago with 100 percent clean energy.”

In an official release from the Mayor’s Press Office, Emanuel noted that “The City and its sister agencies have already made significant strides to green their energy supply. In 2013, the City eliminated coal from the over 1 billion kWh in electricity it buys on an annual basis. A dozen CPS schools have had solar arrays installed since 2009, while the Park District and City Colleges currently procure large portions of their energy use from renewable sources.”

What’s more, Emanuel said “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [has presented] the City of Chicago [with] a 2017 Energy Star Partner of the Year Award. It is given annually to honor organizations that have made outstanding contributions to protecting the environment through energy efficiency.”

Last week, the Mayor announced that the Smart Lighting Project will start in seven neighborhoods on the South and West Sides this summer. Once approved by City Council, the Chicago Smart Lighting Project will replace 270,000 outdated high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps with modern, energy- efficient LED lights; and will add a management system that will give the city a state-of-the-art smart lighting grid.

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