“The Windy City Getting Windier”

In 2018, the state of Illinois announced the enactment of the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act, with the highly ambitious aim of producing 100% clean energy by 2050. However, this past week, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel signed a resolution taking the act one step closer, passing legislation committing to run the city on 100% renewable energy by 2040. The legislation is known as R2019-157 or “Support for Implementation of Clean Energy Transition Plan”. By December of 2020, a transition plan will be on its way–one that will outline the key strategies and a specific timeline in order to reach equitable clean energy transition by the due date.

If the future of energy is renewable, Chicago is a pioneer in this game-changing philosophy. Chicago is the largest city to commit using solar panels and wind energy, now joining the Ready for 100 club which rallies over 118 countries across the US who have clean energy goals. But how realistic is it to power all of the cities buildings with renewable energy by 2035? To convert 1,850 buses to electric power by 2040?

8% of the state of Illinois currently gets its energy from renewable sources. According to research, meeting 45% of the state’s electricity needs through renewables by 2030 would require an estimation of 24,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy. For a state like Illinois starting with very little solar power—currently less than 100 megawatts—becoming the Midwest solar leader means a strong & increasingly fast new infrastructure, one that Chicago currently doesn’t have.

This nonbinding resolution points to another important challenge the region of Chicago is experiencing: climate change mitigation and extreme weather fluctuation. Will the sporadic nature and reliability of solar and wind energy be enough to sustain a city like Chicago? Solar panels and wind turbines are by nature unreliable and require a plan B in the case of an emergency. This means that Chicago will need to have either other states it can depend on if ever renewable energy generators were to sliver, or it will need to opt for fossil fuels as a highly contested back-up.

It is too soon to say what will contain the December 2020 transition plan in terms of renewable sources. What is evident is that Chicago will face numerous obstacles in this transition, namely the economic cost of wind and solar energy. The data on this last point is too recent yet points at an interesting conclusion: it’s doubtful (although not impossible) to see the entirety of Chicago’s ambitions concerning energy come true.

Angelica Djorkaeff

Dreams, Common. “Chicago Commits to 100% Renewable Energy By 2040.” EcoWatch, EcoWatch, 11 Apr. 2019, www.ecowatch.com/chicago-renewable-energy-2634313016.html.

Shellenberger, Michael. “Unreliable Nature Of Solar And Wind Makes Electricity More Expensive, New Study Finds.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Apr. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/04/22/unreliable-nature-of-solar-and-wind-makes-electricity-much-more-expensive-major-new-study-finds/#7c5e96ad4f59.

“100% Commitments in Cities, Counties, & States.” Sierra Club, 5 Apr. 2019, www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments.


Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

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