EDITOR'S NOTE: Amanda Koehn is a graduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism invited to cover the landmark Empowering Customers and Cities event in Chicago last week. Northwestern's ISEN was one of the event sponsors.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel told nearly 200 energy industry leaders Wednesday that Chicago’s environmental successes don’t have to undermine jobs and business growth.
“What I think we are doing in the city… is refuting the notion that if you have an environmental policy, it is anti-job creation and business,” Emanuel said as the keynote speaker at at The Energy Times conference at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel Wednesday evening. “Or that if you are pro-business and pro-job growth, that somehow has to come at the expense of the, not so much environmental, but as what I call quality of life issues.”
The Energy Times’ first major conference, “Empowering Customers and Cities” is a three-day event with speakers and panels representing the energy industry and sustainability experts. Tours of energy efficient Chicago attractions like the Shedd Aquarium are planned for Friday.
Using microgrids to insure against power outages, harnessing wind power, and how places as diverse as Chicago, Amsterdam and Hong Kong are initiating energy transformations are among the topics underway. The conference is sponsored by ComEd and Penton.
Emanuel cited the closure of the Chicago’s last two coal power plants in Little Village and Pilsen as one of the city’s major environmental wins during his time as mayor.
“I told the energy operator, ‘we can make it easy, or we can make it hard,’” Emanuel said.
“Shutting the two coal fired power plants [in neighborhoods] where we had the greatest amounts of asthma and emergency room visits by children has declined,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel said efforts to cleanup the Chicago River are attracting investors, with commitments of $8 billion in riverfront development made since 2011.
In other initiatives, increasing energy efficiency in city buildings allows a 20 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions for the city, the mayor said. Emanuel also plans to build protected bike lanes across 200 miles of city streets, nearly doubling the current 103 miles. Updating taxi laws so more cars are energy efficient and creating infrastructure to collect stormwater to prevent flooding, were also key accomplishments, Emanuel noted.
Emanuel discussed ComEd’s five-year plan (now in the fourth year) to make Chicago the largest city in the U.S. with a smart grid meter installation program. By 2018, ComEd will install smart meters in four million Chicago area homes and businesses, which will allow people to manage their energy usage on a day-by-day basis.
“I’m excited to be part of a city with a smart grid. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the energy mix,” said Frank Bergh, director of product development at SoCore Energy. SoCore Energy is Chicago’s largest solar energy company.
“The reality is that in recent years, most of our business has been out of state, because the State of Illinois has not kept pace with other states on energy policy” to encourage or require more renewables, Bergh said.
Bergh said he is interested in seeing what the rest of the conference has to offer, both as an industry leader and as a resident of Chicago. “I’m excited to explore sustainable energy policy and implementation on a local, urban level,” Bergh said.
Emanuel ended with a quasi-light call for people to enjoy themselves. “I have one other request: We just passed our budget last week. Try not to spend as much time in here as I want you to spend out there spending money.”