Monday, April 23, 2007

City of Chicago Ranks No. 10 in U.S. For Renewable Energy

City of Chicago Ranks No. 10 in U.S. For Renewable Energy
Chicago Center for Green Technology
The entrance to the Chicago Center for Green Technology.
Photo courtesy of the CCGT
CHICAGO – With the rising cost of fossil fuel and the never-ending discussions on global warming, people everywhere are turning to new technologies to help sustain the planet. Just in the time for Earth Day, SustainLane Government has released the results of its survey on renewable energy sources.

SustainLane, an online sustainability knowledge base for state and local government, surveyed 50 of the largest cities in the country to ascertain how much of a city’s electricity comes from renewable sources. Some of these sources include solar, wind, geothermal and small-scale hydro energy.

Within the survey, SustainLane examined 15 areas of urban sustainability including public transit use, air and tap water quality, planning and land use, affordability, energy and climate change policy, local food and agriculture, green economy and sustainability management.

“What we’re seeing now is a dramatic increase in local governments’ efforts to draw energy from renewable sources that are less harmful to the environment,” SustainLane researcher Warren Karlenzig said in a statement. “Some U.S. cities have also set goals for increasing renewable energy ranging from Chicago’s 20 percent goal by 2010.”

Though Chicago has been ranked No. 10 in the SustainLane survey out of 50 U.S. cities, Stephen Bell, director of the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT), says Chicago “should be No. 1 from an insider perspective”. He also pointed out that the city’s definition of sustainability may be different than SustainLane’s.

Minneapolis ranked No. 8 while Oakland, Calif. dominantly took home the No. 1 spot.

SustainLane's logo Bell says Chicago is developing an environmental scorecard using similar criteria as SustainLane to determine its greenness and how it compares to other cities across the country. SustainLane says the economic significance of investing in renewable energy sources is important.

Leading cities in renewable energy may have an advantage in future federal or state regulations aimed at regulating or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions or developing renewable energy standards. If greenhouse gases become taxed, cities with strong renewable energy programs could save a lot of money in the long run and their economies could gain a tax advantage.

Chicago is one of the cities offering a tax break for green developments with funding that is backed mostly by the U.S. Department of Environment. The city has also introduced a green bungalow initiative. Through this program, bungalows that are in the process of renovation use eco-friendly materials and technology.

Chicago Center for Green Technology
A solar city.
Photo courtesy of the CCGT
Sustainable products – such as water-conserving landscape features and recycled insulation materials – are being used. Exhaust fans that vent to the outside of a house were included to save energy.

All new developments in Chicago have to incorporate green technology and meet a “gold” or “silver” rating in regard to leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) qualifications.

Not only does a building itself need to reach green standards but its energy efficiency, transit orientation and interaction with the city are also factored into the rating.

Some of the newer buildings have included technology such as strategically placed windows that allow natural light to flow through the home. This reduces the use of artificial lighting. Recycled and long-lasting materials were used in development to reduce the amount of trash in landfills.

Many of these developments have sod roofs. A sod roof acts as an insulator and counters the amount of heat absorbed into a building. That action alone results in less energy use. It also eliminates the destruction that ultra-violet rays cause on older roofs. It also converts carbon dioxide into oxygen to cut down on greenhouse gases.

These are just a few of the many forms of new technology found in green buildings. While Chicago’s mayor and his many city departments are working on green efforts, the public is, too. The Chicago Center for Green Technology is working with the community through various training programs and information sessions. Bell added: “The center acts as a disseminator of information.”

Chicago Center for Green Technology's logo There are three main programs Bell described that make a contribution to the community. The first is Green Tech University.

While the program is free to the public, some classes may have a small fee. He added: “It is an opportunity to walk in, sit down and focus on everything green.” A certificate is issued at the conclusion of this program. Many people who finish the program take what they learn back into their lives, Bell says.

The Center for Green Technology believes in starting young and works with educators to inform children.

“It is essential that information about sustainability be introduced at an early age,” Bell said. “We prepare the teacher for a visit to the center and then prepare them on their visit to take the information they learned back to the classroom.” By education children on green technology, they are more likely to use these forms of technology.

Bell also spoke of the Chicago Conservation Corp. This is a network of volunteers found across the city who go through intense training on green technology. After completing the training, these volunteers head back to their communities. They are given seed money to start their own program in their neighborhood.

It does not have to be Earth Day in Chicago to recognize the importance of sustainability. It is not only about the development of green technology. It is about how it’s understood and used in the real world. While the city’s SustainLane ranking may have only been No. 10, Chicago is working on making the city bright green.

Staff Writer

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