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Chicago to Put Large Buildings on an Energy Diet

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Chicago to Put Large Buildings on an Energy Diet

The Merchandise Mart will be retrofitted for energy efficiency.

Big environmental initiatives are Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s forte, and Wednesday’s announcement at McCormick Place was one of his biggest to fight global warming. The city has a new program for large buildings to cut energy use. Mayor Daley isn’t flying solo on this. Instead, he’s a junior partner with former President Bill Clinton. Chicago Public Radio’s Shawn Allee caught Daley handing off credit to Clinton and brings us this report.

DALEY: At this time, I’d like to introduce the President of the United States, Bill Clinton.

CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor, I’m very grateful for your comments and I’m glad to be here…

President Bill Clinton took the podium from Mayor Daley and started into why cities need more efficient buildings.

CLINTON: Cities occupy two percent of the earth’s land but generate 75 percent of the greenhouse gases, which means everything you do in Chicago to reduce them is a potential model for every urban area on earth. It’s really, really important.

So important, that the Clinton Climate Iniative rounded up business and tech experts over the last year. They’ll help Chicago retrofit commercial buildings like the Sears Tower and the Merchandise Mart. Clinton says it usually makes sense for buildings to sip rather than gulp energy, but some building owners can’t shell out for high-tech furnaces, wind turbines, or hyper-efficient windows: they’re scared they won’t make their money back.

Even when cities offer help, it only goes so far, so, Clinton’s organization tries to fill in the gap two ways. First,

CLINTON: We organized a consortium of all the mayors in our group which Chicago and Mayor Daley are one. Forty big cities on five continents and negotiated discount prices for environmental technology, expensive things. Anywhere from a modest five to ten percent to seventy percent.

Chicago is part of Clinton’s green-tech buying club.

Second, major banks will step in with financing, five billion dollars in financing. The banks make money only if there are real energy savings from the investement. That way, building owners face less risk.

Clinton will leave behind more than a celebrity afterglow. His foundation and the city have already started projects both large and small. Mercy Housing Lakefront runs 1500 affordable housing units. President Cindy Holler says groups like hers have invested in efficiency before,

HOLLER: But we gotta get past just sort of experimenting with green design, given the urgency of the issue and start saying, no, it’s gotta make economic sense so that the wider marketplace will start doing it. ‘Cause, unless we all are doing this, we’re not really going to save the planet.

Holler says Clinton’s organization and the city selected one of her buildings for a retrofit. In fact, Clinton mentioned her group in his address today.

HOLLER: I love that he mentioned our name and I’ll be prouder if we really can achieve the savings and really can show that green design can work economically as he mentioned in his speech. I’d rather be good than famous, I guess that’s what I’m saying.

But Holler says it wouldn’t hurt to be famous for doing good, either.

I’m Shawn Allee, Chicago Public Radio.

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