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Chicago Build

Aug 10, 2022

Chicago’s City-owned Buildings Will Shift to 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2025

Matt Hickman, The Architect's Newspaper

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this week that her administration’s plan to purchase clean, renewable energy for all city-owned facilities and operations by 2025 will move ahead following the finalization of a $422 million contract with Baltimore-headquartered Constellation Energy in collaboration with Swift Current Energy, headquartered in Boston.

Per the Mayor’s Office, Chicago is one of the largest cities in the U.S. to make such a commitment, one slated to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by more than 290,000 metric tons—roughly equivalent to the emissions generated by 62,000 cars—per year. On a related note, Chicago has already commenced the process of transitioning its city-owned fleet to 100 percent all-electric vehicles by 2035.

New York City has made a similar pledge, vowing to purchase 100 percent clean energy for all city government operations by 2025 as part of its larger carbon-neutral-by-2050 agenda.

In a statement, Lightfoot proclaimed that the agreement with Constellation, which will kick off in January 2023 with an initial five-year term, “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.”

The agreement marks a major step forward in the city’s goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 62 percent by 2040 per the 2022 Chicago Climate Action Plan.

As further detailed in Lightfoot’s announcement, the Swift Current Energy–developed Double Black Diamond Solar project, a 593-megawatt solar generation installation planned for Sangamon and Morgan counties in downstate Illinois, is set to begin construction by the end of this year. The job-generating Double Black Diamond facility, which ranks as one of the largest solar projects in Illinois history, will partially power major—and majorly power-consuming—civic and infrastructural facilities in Chicago including airports, the Jardine Water Purification Plant, and the main branch of the Chicago Public Library System. Sourcing from the massive installation will commence in 2025 per the agreement. The facility will also will serve as a clean power source for other communities and organizations across the state outside of Chicago.

As also outlined in the agreement, Constellation and Swift Current Energy will provide funding for job training, apprenticeships, educational programs, and other initiatives that “focus on the development of a diverse, clean energy; and sustainability-focused workforce.”

“Being a part of the renewable energy workforce will change lives,” said Karen Freeman Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Focused on affordable housing, entrepreneurialism, and lifting Black Chicagoans up through economic and educational empowerment, the venerable 106-year-old organization provides a robust Solar Energy Jobs Training Program through its Workforce Development Center.

Monday’s announcement was made from the Chicago Urban League’s South Side headquarters in Bronzeville.

Chicago’s agreement with Constellation Energy marks the end of a nearly two-year procurement process by the city’s Department of Assets, Information, and Services (AIS). The sizable city agency, charged with overseeing all of Chicago’s public buildings among other things, is a rather new one, formally launched in mid-2020 through the merger of the Department of Innovation and Technology and Department of Fleet and Facility Management.

“As the owner or operator of over 425 facilities city-wide, including City Hall and one of the world’s busiest airports, it is imperative that we as city leaders take all measures necessary to decarbonize our assets and to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change,” said acting AIS commissioner Sandra Blakemore. “AIS is pleased to have collaborated with Constellation and Swift Current Energy to achieve a monumental milestone for the City of Chicago, while also concentrating on our multifaceted approach to a clean energy transition including the electrification of our fleet and the retrofits of our building portfolio.”

With the landmark agreement now finalized, the AIS and Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer Angela Tovar will “also lead strategic planning to identify opportunities to encourage additional local, distributed renewable generation, city asset energy efficiency projects, and energy storage in the city itself,” the Mayor’s Office noted. “This process supports future targets of gradually reducing market purchases of RECs in achieving the goal of running all City operations on 100 percent renewable energy and ensuring all electricity consumed in Chicago is sourced from clean, renewable sources by 2035.”

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