Pritzker, Lightfoot tout city’s $422 million deal for green energy

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker at Monday’s announcement of a new city contract with a provider of renewable energy.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Chicago has signed a $422.2 million agreement with Constellation New Energy LLC to provide renewable power to government buildings, street lights and all other city assets — and a carbon-free footprint — by 2025.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose “Climate and Equitable Jobs Act” laid the groundwork for the agreement, called the power supply contract that will “make clean energy the standard” for buildings a “model” for the nation.

It calls for the city-owned buildings that consume the most energy — the Jardine Water Purification Plan, Harold Washington Library and those at O’Hare and Midway airports — to start drawing a healthy chunk of their power from a new solar farm under construction in Sangamon and Morgan counties. It will be “the largest utility-scale solar generation facility in Illinois’ history,” Pritzker said.

With capacity to generate 593 megawatts, the Double Black Diamond solar farm will be owned and operated by Swift Current Energy as part of the Constellation agreement.

“This is an enormously positive development … for the residents of Chicago and for the state of Illinois. You’re really making clean energy the standard for buildings and for residents throughout our city,” Pritzker told a news conference at the Chicago Urban League.

Work on the solar farm will start in a few months, creating nearly a thousand jobs, Pritzker said. 

“And by 2025, hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans will get their energy needs met by an entirely renewable energy source. It’s momentous. … Illinois is a leader in the clean energy revolution. In this state, we take seriously the looming threats of the climate crisis.” 

The new five-year contract is “an historic moment in our city’s obligation to combat climate change with concrete, tangible steps towards a renewable future,” Lightfoot said.

“To get there requires all of us to set and implement bold, equitable climate goals — all necessary at all levels of government — but especially at the city level. … We also need to bring the benefits of a thriving green economy to all of our 77 communities.”

But, the mayor warned: “It can’t just be about the government. Although we have an important role to play, each of us needs to step up and do our part. We must work as hard as we possibly can to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change, which we see manifest almost every single day across the country and across our world.”

The Harold Washington Library is among those city-owned buildings that use the most energy.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

On Earth Day, Chicago released a 2022 Climate Action Plan with an ambitious goal of reducing emissions in the city 62% by 2040.

Lightfoot called the Constellation contract a “major step forward in making these goals a reality.” 

It will allow the city “to purchase renewable energy for all city facilities and operations by 2025” as well as the 300 megawatts of solar power needed to serve “institutions like O’Hare, Midway, and our water pumping stations.”

For the rest of city energy use — including street lights — the city plans to purchase “renewable energy credits from other sources,” officials said.

Over time, City Hall also plans to invest in what Lightfoot called “transformative, locally-generated energy projects.”

“This includes opportunities, for example, like the Library Power Project, which will provide 10 primarily South and West side libraries with energy saving upgrades and rooftop solar panels, starting as soon as this year,” the mayor said. 

Without Pritzker’s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act and its “explicit attention toward economic equity and climate justice,” the landmark agreement would not have been possible, the mayor said. 

“We expect that the new solar farm powering our biggest energy uses will be built in alignment with [the bill’s] equity and labor expectations for large renewable development. That means that at least 10 percent of the labor force will be equitably eligible. Prevailing wage will be paid. And a project labor agreement with our labor unions will be put in place,” the mayor said. 

Constellation and Swift have together “made commitments” to bankroll education and job training programs along with apprenticeships, the mayor said. 

“So imagine folks — internships, apprenticeships down on site that provide opportunities for our residents to get into the green economy and learn this business from the inside out,” she said. 

“That is how we leverage our buying power to change the energy market for the better as well as ensure that our residents are able to take part in the green economy that we are building here.” 

Owned by Commonwealth Edison until being split-off in February, Constellation Energy bills itself as the nation’s “largest producer of carbon free energy and the leading competitive retail supplier of power and energy products and services” for American homes and businesses. 

Kathleen Barron, Constellation’s executive vice-president and chief strategy officer, said the contract will “not only make a lasting impact in the fight against climate change, but do so in a way that ensures people in under-served communities will benefit from the transition to a carbon-free economy.” 

“Constellation will provide $500,000 to fund sustainability job training programs that will build the diverse workforce that will meet the equity vision” of the new state law, she said.

Contributing: David Roeder

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August 8, 2022 at 05:38PM

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