EDITOR’S NOTE: Karen Weigert, Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer, will be addressing the landmark Empowering Customers & Cities conference in Chicago November 4-6. She recently talked with the Energy Times about her job. This is the last of a two-part series.
ENERGY TIMES: How do Chicago’s efforts on the energy front align with Commonwealth Edison initiatives?
WEIGERT: Commonwealth Energy is a critical player for energy in the city. They deliver the large energy efficiency programs for the majority of northern Illinois. They’ve been a partner as we’ve built the commercial buildings initiative. They’ve also been a partner as we’ve looked at residential energy efficiency. The larger transformation from a residential standpoint with ComEd has to do with the smart grid rollout. Updated, innovative infrastructure enables delivery of more opportunities for residents to control their energy, save dollars and cut emissions.
ENERGY TIMES: How about the city lighting program – what changes do you see there?
WEIGERT: There’s currently an initiative through the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. There’s an interest in being fundamentally transformative as we look at street lighting and transitioning to a much more efficient lighting type while continuing to provide appropriate lighting throughout the city of Chicago. We’re very interested in what those innovative opportunities are as we continue to meet the needs of our residents in every neighborhood.
ENERGY TIMES: What new major challenges lie ahead?
WEIGERT: As you think about cities, we’re noticing more and more people want to live in urban settings. How do we insure that development is happening near transit, so people have options to not use a car. How do we insure that we are continuing to protect and preserve Lake Michigan, upon whose shores we sit, and the Chicago River, which is increasingly becoming a recreational frontier? We’ve got to continue to move that needle more and more so that you have that wonderful place to live anchored in the core assets of a sustainable place. On the flip of that, we’ve got to insure that we’re continuing to create a business climate so that the companies that are in growing sectors continue to find a home in Chicago. What really gets us all excited is this is a great city for the residents who are here, and we need to continue to make sure it’s a great city for every resident in every neighborhood.
ENERGY TIMES: There seems to be an entire ecosystem of change agents across the city.
WEIGERT: In Chicago we’ve got a really strong group of individuals who sit in lots of different kinds of institutions. You’ve got innovation happening inside the city, you’ve got innovation in non-profits, you’ve got innovation in for-profits, and you’ve got that next generation of grads who are finding their place in those sectors. So we’re really lucky to have that and we will try to continue to create an overall vision and make sure that we’ve got a place for all sorts of solutions that come forward.