- The City of Chicago has released a $200 million request for proposals (RFP) for a contract to procure renewable energy for all city-owned buildings.
- Under the contract, all city-owned buildings, streetlights and other facilities would run on renewable energy starting in 2022 and lasting at least five years. Supplier applications are due Nov. 6, and the city intends to choose a vendor in January.
- This RFP supports Chicago's stated goal of running all city-owned buildings on 100% renewable energy by 2025 and transitioning the entire city to renewable energy by 2035.
Chicago is leveraging its economy of scale purchasing power with this RFP, said Brendan Owens, senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council. The city's procurement work also could encourage neighboring municipalities to forge similar agreements to reap the benefits of renewable sources added to the regional energy pool.
"[Chicago is] a huge purchaser of bulk rate electricity and may have the ability to go out and do procurement to create renewable energy that previously was not on the grid," Owens said. "There's a win-win across all the value chains that the city is interested in."
The renewables contract could shape how Chicago renegotiates its power purchasing agreement with electric utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), which expires at the end of this year. Last year, nearly two dozen aldermen requested a feasibility study on cutting ties with ComEd and created a municipal utility. The study results came out last week indicating it would cost the city about $8.8 billion to sever ties with ComEd and create a municipally-owned utility. The average electric delivery rate would be 43% higher in the first year of a municipal system, and it would be higher to varying degrees through 2039. Chicago consequently halted exploration of municipalization.
The cost of renewable energy has come down significantly in recent years, experts note, meaning switching to renewables could provide Chicago with energy savings in the long term.
"Renewable energy specifically, and energy efficiency as well, are well-proven to save money for anyone — private or government sectors," said Liz Beardsley, senior policy counsel at USGBC.
Switching to renewable energy can also reduce pollution, leading to positive public health benefits — with critical implications during the pandemic considering scientists have found links between higher levels of air pollution and higher COVID-19 death rates.
Power generation intermittency is a challenge with renewable energy. Solar generation peaks during the day, and wind peaks at night. Chicago could overcome reliability challenges with each type of individual energy source by using a blend optimized to when and how buildings use the energy, Owens said. For example, city buildings could employ a strategic blend of solar and wind-use based on their optimal usage times.
The renewable energy RFP is the latest in a string of actions Chicago has taken over the past several years to reduce the carbon footprint of its built environment, which the city said accounts for 72% of Chicago's greenhouse gas emissions. The city launched a building energy rating system last summer to rate large buildings' energy efficiency and make the information public. Chicago achieved LEED for Cities platinum certification in 2018 for its work toward sustainability goals.
More than 160 U.S. cities have committed to using 100% renewable power. Now there's a push for cities to lead sustainability efforts by example with their municipal facilities, as is the case in Boston, Cincinnati and Seattle.
"Cities have been making climate commitments, leading them to focus on their own operations and their impact to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions and their carbon footprint," Beardsley said.