900 Chicago government buildings to switch to renewable energy

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Maria Cardona / Sun-Times

More than 900 government buildings in Chicago will shift their electricity use to “100 percent renewable energy” by 2025 under an ambitious mayoral plan that contrasts sharply with President Donald Trump’s retreat on environmental issues.

Together, Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges, Chicago Park District fieldhouses and buildings owned by the city and the Chicago Housing Authority consume 8 percent of all the electricity used in Chicago, according to city officials.

Last year, that amounted to nearly 1.8 billion kilowatt hours — enough to power 295,000 Chicago homes. It would take more than 300 wind turbines to generate that amount of power.

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

The 900 government buildings will accomplish the shift through a variety of strategies. They include: purchasing “renewable energy credits” by going out to the market to buy a megawatt of solar or wind power; buying utility-supplied renewable energy through the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard; and by installing solar panels or windmills on city buildings and public property.

The City Colleges 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 said.

Chris Wheat, City Hall’s chief sustainability officer, wouldn’t say how many of the 900 buildings will have space for “on-site generation” nor provide specifics on costs.

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.”

Jack Darin, president of the Illinois Sierra Club. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Jack Darin, president of the Illinois Sierra Club. | Rich Hein/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 said. “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.”

Jack Darin president of the Illinois Sierra Club, said the mayor’s plan would be a “big win for Chicago residents, their health and their environment.”

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