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Chicago Aims High With Renewable Energy Goals For 2035

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Lights illuminate the downtown Chicago skyline Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Chicago

Lights illuminate the downtown Chicago skyline Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Chicago

Kiichiro Sato

Chicago plans on transitioning all of its buildings to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 and to electrify the CTA bus fleet by 2040. 

This goal is part of the city’s new comprehensive plan, “Resilient Chicago,” created in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities. The plan includes 50 actionable initiatives that aim to address the city’s most pressing issues, from energy efficiency to disparities between neighborhoods. 

Mayor Emanuel unveiled the plan Thursday, expanding on the city’s prior commitment for renewable energy in municipal buildings by 2025. 

Morning Shift digs into how Chicago plans to move toward 100 percent renewable energy and what a greener future could look like for the city.

What is Mayor Emanuel’s new renewable energy plan?

Ranjani Prabhakar: This initiative builds upon the Mayor’s commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy to power all city buildings in 2025, and we’ve since expanded that commitment to include community-wide buildings by 2035. 

On the evolution of energy efforts in Chicago

Karen Weigert: When the mayor came in, we established a program called Retrofit Chicago and it was a goal for large buildings to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years — so it’s very ambitious. We started with 14 buildings and we were super excited. And now, there are over 90 buildings, and these buildings are across the city and they’re in different sectors.

Jenn White: What kind of challenges do you think the city will face when it comes to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy? How realistic is this goal?

Weigert: Certainly there’s fear about climate change and there’s incredible challenges in the inequities in our neighborhoods. But when you think about getting to something like a 100 percent renewable goal — Where are the jobs today? How can we have solar installers working right now? And then what are those technologies that we’re going to need in a city like this without a lot of open land, where we have roof space that we can use of different sizes? How are we going to think about pulling of this together so that everybody is involved so that our electricity center is front and center and helping us live the lives we want?

Chicago and Illinois measure ‘fairly well’ compared to other cities and states

Weigert: Chicago has actually grown its economy while reducing emissions over the last decade. That’s an amazing thing. That breaks that paradigm of you have to sacrifice one for the other. Illinois now has on the books some of the most innovative energy legislation in the country in the Future Energy Job Acts. That’ll roll through 2030 … and that will put Illinois as one of the leading states, and we’ve got Chicago as one of the leading cities. 

Cities are leading a ‘clean energy revolution’ at the national level

Weigert: Cities play a unique role and they play it because their policies impact residents today. And we see it every day. But that backdrop of the federal policy can really accelerate the work here … So you see most parts of the U.S. having a perspective that climate change is real and that there’s something we need to do — and part of that is because we don’t want the worst to happen and part of that is because we want to lead this clean energy revolution that’s going to be global. And at some point, the federal leadership will be there and you’re starting to see it in the congressional side of the House.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click play to hear the full conversation.

GUESTS: Ranjani Prabhakar, deputy policy director of climate change at the Chicago Mayor's Office

Karen Weigert, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, vice president at Slipstream and former chief sustainability officer for the City of Chicago

LEARN MORE: Mayor Emanuel Releases ‘Resilient Chicago’ (City of Chicago 2/14/19)

Mayor Emanuel Calls for Powering Chicago with 100 Percent Clean Energy (Sierra Club 2/14/19)

Activists Denounce Mayor Emanuel’s Renewable Energy Plan(WTTW 2/14/19)

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