While the federal government has pulled back from efforts to address global warming and the Trump administration is vocally pro-fossil fuels, Chicago, like many other major U.S. cities, is further committing itself to renewable energy.
On November 16, a press release from the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the creation of the Chicago Renewable Energy Challenge, a program that calls for members to achieve 100 percent renewable energy to power one or more participating buildings in Chicago by 2035 and then maintain this generation for at least 10 years. Members also agreed to report back on their progress to lead by example for other organizations. According to the release, the voluntary effort is designed “to accelerate the installation of renewable energy in commercial and institutional properties across the City.”
The Challenge encourages members to participate in statewide community solar projects and invest in on-site renewable energy, though not all generation must be done on site; a portion can be produced by off-site renewable energy installations.
The seven founding members of the Chicago Renewable Energy Challenge include Karen Marie Salon, Loyola University, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Northwestern University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Illinois at Chicago.
If the members achieve their goal, the city stands to see a collective reduction of 184.5 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year—the equivalent of taking nearly 30,000 cars off the road, enough electricity to power over 20,000 homes for a year or 300,000 barrels of oil.
Chicago has become a leader in its support of clean energy in recent years. The Renewable Energy Challenge is modeled after Retrofit Chicago, another leadership program started in 2012 in which participants commit to a 20 percent reduction in building energy use within five years of joining. (Members have collectively achieved a 17 percent reduction.)
In April 2017, Mayor Emanuel committed the city to using 100 percent renewable energy in all municipal facilities by 2025. That summer, Emanuel signed an Executive Order committing Chicago to adopt the goals of the Paris Agreement, after the Trump Administration pulled the U.S. out of the agreement made by 196 countries to create environmental protections to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise. In December 2017, Emanuel, alongside dozens of other U.S. mayors, signed the Chicago Charter with goals similar to the Paris Agreement.