Cook County has already begun to feel the impacts of climate change and climate change will intensify issues that the region is already experiencing, such as more frequent heavy rains, causing more flooding or the increased occurrence and length of heat waves. Yet, the impacts will not be experienced by everyone equally. The burden most often falls on under-resourced communities and communities of color. Addressing climate change must also address racial inequities.

In 2013, President Preckwinkle convened the Sustainability Advisory Council that set a goal for the County to reduce its GHG emissions for County buildings by 80% from the 2010 baseline. By 2018, the County had reduced GHG emissions from County owned buildings by 32%, offset 20% of its electricity usage with renewable energy certificates (RECs) and saved taxpayers $33 million in utility expenses.

In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible but would require global net human-caused emissions of CO2 to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050. In response to this, President Preckwinkle set the following goals for County-owned buildings:

1.Carbon reduction of 45% by 2030 from a 2010 baseline.

2.Carbon neutral by 2050.

3.100% renewable electricity by 2030.

To meet these ambitious goals, the County developed the Clean Energy Plan, released in July 2020. This Plan applies to the 171 County buildings totaling approximately 19,000,000 square feet. As part of the decision-making process, this Plan prioritizes actions that are urgent, additional (new renewable energy that would not exist but for the County’s efforts), local, resilient and reliable and cost-conscious. This Plan consists of four tracks the County intends to take to help reach the goals for County government buildings.

REDUCE – This track focuses on reducing carbon emissions across the building portfolio through energy efficiency projects that target all building systems, including lighting, heating, cooling, plug loads and building envelope.

MAINTAIN – Maintaining emissions reductions is just as important as the initial reductions. This track focuses on improvements in building monitoring, including upgrades to building automation systems and educating operators and employees on the importance of energy reduction and best practices in building operations and maintenance.

RENEW – The County’s renewable energy strategy includes evaluating a mix of on-site generation, power purchase agreements, purchase of renewable energy certificates and storage. The preliminary focus of the Renew track is to meet the 2030 renewable electricity goal. The County will look first at all opportunities to generate its own energy, then at projects that are additional and local, and finally use power purchase agreements and renewable energy certificates (RECs) for meeting the 2030 goal. The County will prioritize those RECs and renewable energy projects that are additional, have a local impact on jobs and the economy, increase resiliency and minimize expenses for the County.

As the Reduce track continues beyond 2030 and alternative renewable energy sources are introduced, it is a goal of this Plan that the amount of renewable energy certificates needed to meet the 100% renewable electricity goal will decrease and a greater amount of on-site generation, power purchase agreements and storage will contribute toward renewable energy opportunities in Cook County.

SUPPORT – Policies and procedures will play an important role in the Clean Energy Plan. These elements provide the internal support needed to execute on the other three tracks as the Plan is implemented. It is important to create the right environment to execute this Plan. This includes new building standards, introducing solar generation potential as a decision factor in new buildings and land acquisitions and including an energy budget for County departments and agencies.

Annual reports outlining progress towards the renewable electricity and carbon neutral goals will be provided. The Clean Energy Plan is a living document that will evolve as the County and technologies evolve. The Clean Energy Plan will always represent the County’s commitment to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Cook County’s Clean Energy Plan: A plan for 100% renewable electricity and a carbon neutral footprint for Cook County buildings