ComEd to spend $40 million on plan to rid homes of natural gas

ComEd is moving from a pilot project to a larger plan to “decarbonize” thousands of homes, making them energy efficient and more environmentally friendly.

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Florence Pacheco recently had her gas furnace and water heater replaced with electric units with the help of ComEd and the nonprofit Elevate.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Florence Pacheco has struggled to stay cool during hot summers and warm through cold winters for over four decades in her Hermosa home.

So when she was offered an opportunity to have her gas furnace swapped out for a more efficient electrical system in her worker’s cottage at no cost to her, she enthusiastically agreed.

“Never, ever in my lifetime could I afford it,” said Pacheco, a widow who lives on Social Security checks. “Thank you, Jesus.”

Through a ComEd initiative, Pacheco, 69, now has an energy-efficient heat pump that provides warmth in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. She has new wall and attic insulation. She also got an electric heat pump for her hot water, replacing a natural gas model.

She’s eventually going to get a new electric hookup for cooking to make her home less reliant on fossil fuels that contribute to the climate crisis.

The total cost so far is almost $63,000, and it is paid for under the program for low-income residents sponsored by electric utility ComEd and the nonprofit Elevate.

Working with Elevate and other organizations, ComEd is moving from a pilot program to convert 100 homes to a much larger-scale project with the goal of spending $40 million over the next three years. That plan will potentially convert thousands of homes across the Chicago area and elsewhere in northern Illinois.

About 1.3 million ComEd customers — about one-third of the utility’s total — are in the city of Chicago.

The program also includes follow-up inspections to make sure everything is working correctly. ComEd officials say the utility will fund 100% of single-family homes and up 70% of multifamily buildings that qualify. They expect several hundred conversions next year and plan to increase the numbers through 2025.

The expected benefit to Pacheco and others is lower utility bills, more efficient heating and cooling and a reduction in the use of natural gas, which contributes to the climate crisis.

Citing a recent analysis by the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, ComEd said “de-carbonizing,” or converting gas to all-electric, could save a homeowner more than $1,400 a year in energy costs.

“This is so central — this work — to ComEd’s commitment to drive a clean energy and reliable energy future,” said Erica Borggren, vice president of customer solutions for ComEd. “We see a sense of urgency.”

In Chicago, City Hall is considering a number of climate-fighting recommendations from outside advisers, including a suggestion to require new residential or commercial construction to be built without gas or other fossil fuel-burning equipment.

That suggestion of reducing new gas hookups is being proposed even as Peoples Gas is spending billions of dollars to lay hundreds of miles of new pipeline underground, a program that the utility plans to continue through 2040.

To be eligible for the ComEd program, a single-family homeowner must have household income at or below 80% of an area’s median income. Multifamily homes can be eligible based on different qualifications, including those based on the U.S. Census tract.

ComEd said it will try to identify potential applicants from customers who have already participated in the utility’s energy-efficiency programs and also through its partners, such as the Chicago Bungalow Association.

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Bill Kielb of Elevate inspects Florence Pacheco’s new electric heat pump after the nonprofit and ComEd recently swapped out gas-powered equipment under a new program.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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