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Time for clean power in Chicago

Updated: December 27, 2012 6:11AM

At the polls on Nov. 6, Chicago voters gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council the authority to purchase power for our city’s residents and small businesses. This move will allow the city to save residents money by lowering their electricity bills.

But we can do more than simply save you money. We can make Chicago a national clean-energy leader, create good jobs and still deliver savings on your electricity bills.

The mayor has a solid plan. In any deal signed by the city, we will all know what is generating the electricity we use, such as solar power or natural gas. Such power labeling makes sense because it sets a baseline for how we can increase the amount from clean sources.

The city is also asking energy providers for power portfolios that minimize pollution that harms public health. Chicago is a major market and we should use our purchasing power to demand clean healthy energy.

But we can undertake three more steps that will change the way cities everywhere purchase power.

First, we can eliminate coal from our energy mix. In September, we closed the last two coal power plants in our city. Now, it’s time to get coal from beyond the city limits out of our power lines.

When we purchase electricity made from coal, we are also purchasing soot, acid rain and climate-changing carbon dioxide. That means more asthma, cancer and premature death, as well as stifling heat waves and flooded basements. In today’s energy market, coal is more expensive than cleaner electricity sources such as natural gas. The path is clear; we should end our reliance on dirty coal.

Second, let’s take a small portion of the savings we can achieve through municipal aggregation and invest those savings in clean energy infrastructure. With every solar panel we put up on a rooftop or in a brownfield, we reduce our draw on a power grid that now sends money out of our city.

We can also invest in energy efficiency programs that save homeowners and businesses even more on their energy bills. These local energy projects would create jobs in installation and in retrofitting buildings. Long-term savings not spent on wasted energy will also mean more money staying in communities where it can boost local economic development and jobs.

Likewise, we can continue attracting new businesses to our city, growing our green economy. And we can still deliver you savings on your bill. That’s local jobs, clean, renewable, local energy production, less wasted energy and fewer dollars out of your pocket every month.

Finally, Chicago can lead Illinois to a clean-energy future. Some have expressed concern that by aggregating, our city would break with the state’s standards for renewable energy, such as solar and wind. But the opposite is true.

We can use our voice to ask our officials in Springfield to make the state renewable energy standard work effectively with aggregation. This starts with leading by example and crafting the most innovative and progressive electricity contract that our nation has ever seen, and it continues by working for state policies that allow the rest of Illinois to join us.

At the ballot box, Chicago voters said yes to savings. Now the city has a chance to deliver that and much, much more. It’s time to get to work. We’re ready to invest in our future.

Let’s get Chicago on clean power and show the rest of our nation how it’s done.

Joe Moore is alderman of Chicago’s 49th Ward.

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