Category Archives: Cool Cities

Chicago Announces All Public Buildings Will Be Powered With 100% Clean Energy

Sierra Club Illinois Chapter staff and volunteers joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week to announce that the Windy City would transition all of its municipal buildings and operations to 100% clean, renewable energy. That currently makes Chicago’s the largest fleet of public buildings in the country to commit to clean energy. 


This victory would not have been possible without the work of so many Sierra Club volunteers and partners who worked for years to push Chicago to move beyond dirty coal and retire the notorious Fisk and Crawford coal plants. Now, Chicago takes the next step.

“Leadership on clean energy and climate change is not coming from Washington—quite the opposite. It has never been more important that local communities step up where national leaders step back. Chicago is pushing forward. We won’t let Donald Trump’s attempts to enrich his fossil-fuel-industry cronies deter us here in Chicago,” said Tony Fuller, Sierra Club Chicago Group Co-Chair.

By committing to power every city, park, public school, city college, and public housing building with 100% clean, renewable energy, Chicago is helping to bring the benefits of the clean energy economy to every neighborhood in the city.

100% clean energy means more than just wind and solar projects for Chicago. This commitment opens doors to new economic opportunities in every Chicago neighborhood—especially where they are needed most. A job on a solar energy project can mean new skills and a new career pathway for a Chicagoan who needs it most. Scaled citywide, these projects can help thousands of individuals and communities reap the benefits of a rapidly growing global economic sector.

Working with community groups and labor unions is critical to our efforts. Groups like Little Village Environmental Justice Organization are ensuring that these opportunities reach everyone. Our brothers and sisters at IBEW are actively preparing workers for the good-paying jobs that will be created.

Chicago’s commitment to 100% clean energy also will bring cleaner air to a city where too many residents struggle with asthma and other respiratory diseases. Pollution from coal plants near and far contributes to smog and soot levels that can send kids to the emergency room just for playing outside. With this commitment to clean energy, Chicago is putting its money where our lungs are.


Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Shedd Aquarium for the City’s announcement of its pledge to move to 100% clean energy for all city buildings.

Clean energy is healthier for the city’s pocketbook, too. Although wind and solar projects require upfront investment, once built, their fuel sources are free. Chicago taxpayers will be protected from spikes in the prices of conventional fuels, saving a huge amount of money in the long run.

Moving to 100% clean energy is clearly a winner for our future, but unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Our President, Donald Trump, seems intent on doing everything in his power to reverse the progress we have made as a country to act on climate change and move to clean energy. He has essentially erased America’s Clean Power Plan, and handed the keys to the EPA to those who would take it apart.

We all dream of the day when all of our power will come from clean, safe, renewable energy. And thanks to advances in technology and decreasing costs, it’s time to stop dreaming, and begin making that 100% clean energy vision a reality. This announcement is a big step as Chicago starts building toward that goal for our community, and we will all be healthier, wealthier, and happier for it.

We applaud the City of Chicago for their leadership in this bold commitment, we look forward to working with the people of Chicago to show the world that we are indeed Ready for 100% clean energy.


Join Our Effort to Get All of Chicago Ready For 100% Clean Energy!

Volunteer: To learn more and join the team Sign up here

Join our upcoming events:


  • Rogers Park Solar Forum: Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m. Sullivan High School, 6631 N Bosworth Ave
  • Chicago March for Science: Saturday, April 22, 10 a.m., Rally at Congress Pkwy

  • Sierra Club Chicago at Science in Chicago Expo: Noon to 3 p.m., Field Museum
  • People’s Climate March: Saturday, April 29, Noon, Federal Plaza
  • Sierra Club New Volunteer Open House: Tuesday, June 6, 6 p.m., 70 E. Lake St. RSVP here

People’s Climate Movement–Chicagoland

Join us Today! January 23rd from 3:30 to 5:30

The People’s Climate Movement is calling for 100 hours of action in response to the inauguration. Sierra Club Valley of the Fox is joining nearby Sierra Club groups in a rally at Rep. Peter Roskam’s office to let him know that his constituents and neighbors want action on climate change. If you want to do something NOW to have a voice in our future, come to this rally. We will have speakers, chanting, and marching. Make some signs. Have your kids make some signs.

Action nourishes hope.

January 23 – Monday – 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
People’s Climate Movement-Chicagoland
Rally at Peter Roskam’s Office
2700 International Drive, West Chicago, IL


Questions? Email Barbara Hill

Chicago Public Buildings Go Coal-Free

Sierra Club Statement on Coal-Free Agreement for Chicago Municipal Buildings

CHICAGO – Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new contract with Constellation New Energy to provide energy for the city of Chicago’s municipal buildings with coal-free energy. This agreement will deliver a 2 percent discount on the City’s energy bill. This announcement builds on the City’s municipal aggregation agreement established in late 2012 eliminating coal from the energy mix for Chicago residents.

In response to today’s news, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin released the following statement:

“Mayor Emanuel’s announcement is an important next step toward eliminating dirty energy from Chicago’s energy mix. Chicago’s most important buildings like City Hall, O’hare and Midway airports, city libraries and police and fire stations will all be powered by coal-free energy.

“Municipal aggregation is already saving Chicago residents money on their electric bills, and Chicago’s coal-free goals are reducing emissions from dangerous coal-fired power plants. Choosing to get rid of coal in the city of Chicago means cleaner air and better rates for our city.”


Chicago’s New Coal-Free Power Supply Now Includes Illinois Wind Energy

Today, the City of Chicago formally announced its Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) aggregation deal, officially moving one of the nation’s largest cities away from coal-fired power. The City of Chicago developed the city’s new electricity mix based on the authority of a voter-approved referendum last fall. The new power supply includes Illinois wind power.

An analysis by the Illinois Institute of Technology shows that the switch from coal power will substantially reduce air pollution – by the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road.

Chicago is proving that moving beyond coal can not only reduce our electric bills but also deliver much healthier air for all of us to breathe. Chicago’s new, cleaner power supply will reduce asthma attacks and other health problems, help fight climate change, and lower residents’ electric bills.

Across the state, more than 600 Illinois municipalities are reducing electricity costs through community aggregation, and many are also looking for ways to use cleaner sources of power. Chicago’s inclusion of local wind energy in their power supply is an example for other aggregated communities to follow and build upon. Today’s news is an important first step toward reducing dependence on fossil fuels and protecting clean air and clean water in our state.

We applaud Mayor Emanuel for his leadership in moving Chicago beyond coal to clean energy and encourage other communities to use their aggregated buying power to support clean energy and a better environment.

On Chicago’s Ballot Tuesday: A Clean Energy Future

When Chicagoans go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll have a chance to decide whether the Windy City moves beyond coal to clean energy in a way that lowers electric bills and creates jobs.   And no, I’m not talking about the clear choice in the presidential race for all who want to move in that direction.

A referendum on Chicago’s ballot will ask voters if they want to pool their buying power to get a better deal on electricity.   A better deal will surely mean lower monthly bills, but by choosing clean, renewable energy to replace dirty coal, Chicagoans can ensure that those lower monthly payments are supporting the jobs of the future and reducing the air pollution that threatens our health.

Choosing a cleaner, different supplier won’t change how the power gets to your home.   The power will still get to you over ComEd’s lines, and your monthly bill will still come from ComEd.   What could change is where the power comes from, and that is where the exciting potential to grow the green economy lies.   Chicago could choose to eliminate coal from its power supply, which currently makes up 43% of Illinois’ electricity.   If Chicago replaced coal with cleaner sources, the reduction in air pollution would be the same as taking 600,000 cars off the road – all while paying less.

Chicago can also choose to show the leadership lacking in the current Congress, and support local employers who are trying to build the clean energy industry here.   While Republicans in Congress are letting the clock run out on one of the key drivers of growth in the wind power industry, Chicago can step up and support an industry that has created over 19,000 jobs in Illinois over the last five years.  A new power supplier could also offer new energy efficiency tools to lower bills even further, and potentially support Chicago’s efforts to install more solar on city rooftops.

“Voting yes on this referendum question will allow my administration to explore the potential for municipal aggregation to deliver savings for Chicago residents and small businesses through an open and competitive bidding process. As part of this competitive bidding process, we will also ask for suppliers to show us how they can deliver cleaner energy to Chicago customers, keeping Chicago on track towards becoming the greenest city in the world. This will result in a win for homeowners, a win for small businesses, and a win for clean energy.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

In less than two years as Mayor, Rahm Emanuel has taken big steps to move Chicago to clean, prosperous energy future.   Working with community groups, he closed Chicago’s two dirty coal plants.   He’s cutting costs by retrofitting buildings to reduce energy waste.    He’s opening doors to new business by streamlining permitting for solar panels on Chicago rooftops.

If Chicagoans vote Tuesday to pool their buying power, 1.1 million ComEd customers will be able to build on these accomplishments by speaking with one voice – a clear call for a cleaner energy future.

Let’s flip the switch – vote yes on community choice aggregation for Chicago.

Emanuel Delivers on Promise of Clean Energy For Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken two more big steps toward a clean energy future for Chicago. While many leaders talk about the urgency of transitioning to clean energy, Emanuel is acting, and making major changes that will deliver cleaner air and new jobs for Chicago in the near future.

First, Emanuel made a major break with the dirty energy of the past when he announced the closure of Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants, which operate without scrubbers in the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. Residents in neighborhoods at the base of the smokestacks have for years sought to have the plants cleaned up or shut down, but made no progress under Mayor Richard Daley. Despite support from across the city for action against these health threats, Daley never showed interest in solving the problem, and an ordinance that would have required cleanup languished in the the City Council he controlled. Daley did a great deal to make Chicago cleaner and greener, but this is one problem he never took on in his quest to become the greenest city in America.
That all changed with the arrival of Emanuel. Emanuel talked during his campaign about the need to clean or close the coal plants, and upon taking office, set about to do just that. While support grew in the Council for a proposal by Ald. Joe Moore and Ald. Danny Solis to force pollution controls, Emanuel called in the owners of the plants and made it clear that the days of dirty coal in Chicago were numbered. He worked with the community, health, environmental, and labor organizations in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition to set a timetable and conditions for closing the plants, and on February 29th, sealed the deal. Midwest Generation’s Fisk plant, located across from Dvorak Park in Pilsen, will close by the end of this year, and their Crawford plant, in Little Village, will close no later than the end of 2014.

Moving beyond coal is a giant step for public health, but the transition to clean energy must be a two-step. Emanuel knows that clean energy solutions bring not only cleaner air, but also cost savings and the potential for thousands of new jobs. Most would agree with those goals, but current market barriers and economic problems have slowed the development of these technologies of the future. But how can we invest in the future when private capital is restricted by tight credit markets, and public dollars are scarce?


Emanuel seems to have devised a brilliant solution with the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. The Trust, which he launched with former President Clinton in Chicago March 1st, would leverage investment from participating lenders and investors in energy efficiency projects in Chicago. The investors would be paid a return based on the energy savings the public buildings will realize when retrofits are made. Emanuel plans to raise $200 million this way to retrofit public buildings in Chicago. Saving energy will create at least 2000 jobs doing the retrofits, and save an estimated $20 million on government energy bills per year.

The transition from coal to clean energy can be slow when powerful interests fight to protect the status quo. Unfortunately, that’s the role being played currently by the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, this week in Chicago two great leaps forward by Mayor Emanuel expedited the day when residents will be free of dirty coal power, and benefiting from the smart choices that will take its place.

In helping to announce the new energy efficiency spending, Clinton talked about Emanuel’s penchant for action over words:

“He was always concerned about how you can take an idea that was new and actually make it work. Talk is cheap in politics and business and life. Anybody can say anything. It’s quite another thing to turn your good intentions into real changes.”

These are real changes indeed, and they are real good for Chicago.

Green Is the New Normal

Normal turned a water infrastructure problem into a beautiful amenity

Conventional wisdom may hold that climate action and sustainability are on the back burner in the current political and economic climate, but that’s not Normal.
Led by Mayor Chris Koos, Normal, Illinois is moving fast to a better future by utilizing smart energy, transportation, planning, and water policies that are pushing the envelope, but at the same time make a lot of sense in the current economic climate.   State Sierra Club leaders had a chance to hear from Koos about many of these projects during a recent visit

Working with the town council, local businesses, and a vibrant community, Koos is making Normal into a showcase for smart sustainability. Here are a few of Normal’s recent successes:

Illinois Sierra Club leader Paras Bhayani talks transportation with Mayor Koos

  • Rather than pave over some of the best farmland on earth with new sprawl, Normal has decided to invest where its citizens already live and work. A top priority is focusing investment on Uptown and the Main Street corridor, which were existing centers of activity with lots of potential. They listened to residents and local experts, and planned streets and sidewalks that are safe and inviting for pedestrians and bikes.
  • Normal asked for the best building practices for these areas, becoming the first city in America to require commercial buildings to be LEED certified. Developers didn’t balk, they built. Now Normal has a bank headquarters, a transportation center, a Children’s Museum, and other state-of-the art buildings that don’t waste energy and offer a healthy indoor environment.
  • Like most towns, Normal faces aging water infrastructure problems in Uptown, but fashioned a brilliant and beautiful solution: convert a leaky old sewer to an underground cistern to capture rainwater, run the water through a living fountain to cleanse it, and then use the water on Uptown’s great landscaping – sparing increasingly precious groundwater and providing a new green amenity that has become a community focal point.
  • While some choose to demonize fast modern trains, Normal is seizing the opportunity that arrives with high speed rail investment. A new terminal will link high-speed Amtrak passengers with local buses, shuttles, and taxis; and makes Uptown a bustling job site for workers at a time when jobs are needed most.
  • Normal is doing everything it can to encourage new development that offers residents transportation choices, but it recognizes that the car is the first, and only choice for many. That’s why it has launched the EV Town project, to prepare for electric vehicles. Mitsubishi, which has an auto assembly plant nearby, has pledged to ship at least 1,000 electric vehicles to Normal and Bloomington by 2014, and Normal wants to be ready. The first 33 public charging stations are in the works, already, with more to come.

All this is only the beginning. Koos and town leaders convened over 150 residents to prepare a Sustainability Plan to chart a course for the future, and it’s chock full of good ideas.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Normal leading the pack on sustainability is that the town is, well, normal. Normal doesn’t have especially unique geography, economic conditions, or demographics. Like anywhere, it has residents who want a cleaner environment, and need good jobs. But Normal does have Chris Koos, and with the support of the community, he’s quietly showing the way to a better future – for Normal, and for all of us.