Go electric in new Chicago buildings, and nix gas stoves and heat

By Chicago 5 Min Read

We applaud Mayor Brandon Johnson’s announcement of the Cumulative Impact Assessment study and his commitment to making Chicago a leader in delivering environmental justice. As the mayor said recently, “The effects of climate change and environmental stressors are not felt the same from neighborhood to neighborhood or community to community.”

Cleaning up pollution from large buildings must be part of the city’s new vision. Mayor Johnson’s own transition report recommended requiring “all new buildings and major renovations to use efficient, all-electric equipment … and incentivize the adoption of heat pumps, all-electric equipment, and renewable energy technologies.” We agree.

In October, we will introduce the Clean and Affordable Buildings Ordinance, a first, necessary step in a critical, long-term transition away from gas toward an equitable plan to move to cheaper, healthier ways to heat and power our homes and businesses.

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CABO would set emissions standards to ensure new buildings in Chicago are built all-electric, and would commit the city to developing a plan for existing large buildings to reduce their pollution. Los Angeles, New York and the adjacent western suburb of Oak Park have already passed similar legislation that cuts energy costs, creates jobs and reduces pollution. Chicago must act now.

The ordinance will face strong resistance from Peoples Gas, which recorded record profits for the sixth straight year while trying to force Chicago families to pay a record $402 million rate hike. This proposed massive rate hike is fueled by a pipeline replacement program that has fallen behind its goals for 22 consecutive quarters, with projected costs of the overall program skyrocketing from about $2 billion to as much as $11 billion.

As a result of this out-of-control pipe replacement program, every Peoples Gas customer in Chicago now pays $50 on their gas bill before they even light their stove or turn on their heat, a charge that is literally bankrupting seniors and families on Chicago’s South and West sides. As of August, Peoples Gas data show that nearly half of customers in Englewood are behind on their gas bills, and winter hasn’t even set in yet, with an average debt of nearly $1,000.

Time is right to go all-electric

Recent polling shows Chicagoans are deeply concerned that Peoples Gas is pushing for a record rate hike to pay for an over-budget pipeline replacement program, giving momentum to efforts to begin the transition away from gas to reduce long-term costs and health risks. Chicagoans oppose the Peoples Gas rate hike 61%-32%, with Black and Latino Chicagoans most vehemently opposed (71% of Black and 66% of Latino Chicagoans).

The urgency for electrification has intensified with growing evidence of the health dangers associated with gas stoves — including a recent Stanford University study that indicated gas stoves could pollute homes with higher concentrations of cancer-causing benzene than secondhand smoke.

Without a managed transition away from gas, Chicago could see a future where the North Side and upper-income communities downtown move away from gas, leaving the rest of the city with the financial burden of replacing aging gas pipes while subjecting residents to more cancer-causing benzene from gas stoves.

This unmanaged, unfair transition happened when Chicagoans moved away from burning coal in their homes in the 1940s, when South Side residents choked on smoke and paid higher bills than those who moved to gas. Now, we must transition from expensive gas to cleaner, cheaper all-electric homes, but this time we must do so in a smart and equitable way.

CABO is the way we can begin to transition equitably away from fossil fuels to heat our homes and cook our food, but only if the mayor actively leads the fight.

 Ald. William Hall represents the 6th Ward. Ald. Timmy Knudsen represents the 43rd Ward.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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