As cities face increasingly challenging weather events caused by climate change, many are taking action. Chicago’s commitment to renewable energy shows how powerful local action at scale can be.
An agreement by the city of Chicago to purchase all of the electricity used in major city operations by 2025 represents a big step in its emissions reduction targets.
Chicago has set target of reducing its carbon emissions by 62% by 2040, under its updated Climate Act Plan in 2022.
Buildings and transport will likely be the major targets for transition to reduced emissions, as they combine to account for 93% of the city’s total emissions.
The city of Chicago’s commitment to transition all city facilities and operations to 100% renewable energy comes amid rising pressure to meet its decarbonisation goals.
The city agreed to buy all its renewable energy from retail electricity supplier Constellation Energy via the Double Black Diamond solar project owned and operated by Swift Current. In exchange, Constellation and Swift have made financial commitments to help fund job training and educational programs in the city, focused on developing a diverse and sustainability-focused workforce.
Leveraging city spending to drive more than emissions reduction
Chicago’s agreement with Constellation Energy and Swift Current will see it switch its major city operations to renewable energy demonstrates the ability of local governments to act independently of federal funding. Further, leveraging its $16.7 billion annual budget also helps it extract additional concessions like the creation of jobs and training from vendors.
Chicago is also encouraging citizen action via programs like Drive Clean Chicago and Chicago Clean Cities which provide incentives to promote clean fuels. Incentives ranging from $90,000 – $300,000 to make the switch depending on models and technologies used are designed to help make the total cost of ownership competitive with combustion engine vehicles.
Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, said: “I am incredibly proud to advance this commitment to transitioning all city operations to 100% renewable energy by 2025. The signing of this agreement demonstrates that the City of Chicago is leading by example and driving high-impact climate action, building the clean energy workforce of the future, and equitably distributing meaningful benefits to foster the local clean energy economy for all.”
Buildings and transport will be focus of updated targets and timelines
Buildings and transport account for 93% of Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions, hence most of the city’s efforts to reduce its emissions will target these sectors. Chicago was among the first cities in America to adopt a climate action, but missed its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target set in 2008, largely due to funding gaps. While not unique to Chicago, the city has taken advantage of the change in federal government and related stance on climate change.
Encouraged by these, the $2.5 billion 2021 Chicago Recovery Plan provided $188 million for climate funding, and resulted in the updated emission reduction goal of 62% by 2040, using 2017 as a baseline. By purchasing solar energy for city operations, Chicago is expected to reduce its carbon footprint by over 290,000 metric tons per year, per EPA estimates.
Building a robust charging infrastructure is critical to achieving transportation-related reduction targets sought. The above programs will also get a boost from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $7.5 billion to develop the charging infrastructure in the U.S., with a goal to install half a million public chargers by 2030.
The 593 MW Double Diamond solar plant will be the largest solar project in the state of Illinois, and will power sites that are major energy users, such as airports, the Harold Washington Library Centre, and Jardine Water Purification plant. For small and medium-sized buildings and streetlights, the city said that it will procure renewable energy credits (RECs) from other sources to offset emissions.
Chicago’s climate haven status at risk of more billion dollar disasters
Its proximity to Lake Michigan, and rising urban population puts Chicago at high risk to climate change disasters. The Great Lakes region, once considered a haven from climate change, has recently seen rising incidents of flooding and winter storms, resulting in a higher than expected level of property destruction and loss of life.
Pockets of heat formed because of the concentration of heat from absorption and re-emitting of the sun’s heat from buildings, roads, and other infrastructure are referred to as “heat islands.” U.S researchers found that the heat island effect can drive night urban temperatures up by 1–7°F, and daytime temperatures by 2-5°F higher than in rural areas.
Rising urban populations and increased development will likely strengthen this effect. Most of the major factors that cause this effect in urban areas, like reduced natural landscapes, building materials used, and the nature of human activities, can be mitigated though the implementation of actions addressing climate change across the board.