Cook County Team

Cook County, IL

cook-county-teamBackground Information

Cook County and the City of Chicago both have an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. At the state level, the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard sets a goal of 15% of renewables of the total generation by 2020 and 25% by 2026.

Cook County and the City of Chicago have a strong history of working together to achieve shared goals. In recent years, they have been working hard on solar market development. In partnership with various stakeholders, including
its local distribution utility, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), the county has launched several countywide and citywide programs. These include:

  1. Solar Chicago, a program based on the “solarize” concept to make solar affordable to residents through
    a large bulk purchase.
  2.  Developing community solar models with diverse ownership structures.
  3.  Chicago Solar Express, to reduce soft costs through a standardized and streamlined permitting and zoning
    process for solar.
  4. Community Solar Potential Analysis, which identified 9,000 megawatts worth of site capacity available in over 3,000 vacant sites for community solar projects in the county.

Cook County is serviced by ComEd, which facilitates electricity distribution from retail energy suppliers in this deregulated market. These suppliers source power from coal, nuclear and natural gas plants. In 2015, the average residential rate was 13.17 cents/kWh.

In September 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago’s City Council adopted a building energy benchmarking ordinance to raise awareness of energy performance through information and transparency, with the goal of unlocking energy and cost savings opportunities for businesses and residents. The law covers fewer than 1% of Chicago’s buildings, which account for approximately 20% of total energy used by all buildings.

Promising Practices

  • Illinois Institute of Technology Microgrid & Bronzeville Community of the Future projects: Bring together the physical infrastructure and expertise of Illinois Tech’s Microgrid and other DOE and ComEd
    investments to grow the project and integrate the community into the microgrid, which includes robust
    community engagement and creative funding strategies.
  • Retrofit Chicago Residential Partnership: As of 2014, the partnership members have saved Chicago residents over $4 million annually with over 100,000 installations of energy saving products in residences and over 20,000 deeper retrofits.
  • Retrofit Chicago Commercial Buildings Initiative: The program, with 62 buildings and 43 million square feet, is one of the largest voluntary efficiency programs in the county. Current participants are already generating more than $6.4 million in annual savings through a commitment to improve whole-building energy efficiency by at least 20% within five years of joining.
  • The SunShot III Community Solar’s outreach for pilot programs has been cited as a best practice. A product of this work is a web-based tool based on GIS, Assessor, and LIDAR data for assessing workable sites for solar.

Major Challenges

  • Policy, siting, structural and financial barriers prevent investment and development of shared solar arrays.
  • Community Solar policy: While Illinois has strong net metering policies and renewable energy standards, the consideration of “virtual” billing practices to enable shared solar development is still undeveloped. While there is strong general interest in sustainability in the Chicago region, the particular opportunities for shared solar de
    velopment remain largely unexplored and untapped.
  • Technical constraints continue to hinder distributed generation goals despite renewable portfolio standard targets.