Hence, the plan assumes that building owners will renovate skyscrapers and factories for energy efficiency, to make them less costly to heat and cool, if adequate loans are made available—a step the city has already taken in cooperation with foundations and banks. Better insulation and new heating, hot water and lighting systems can reduce energy expenses by 30 percent. City officials note that when nine local companies recently spent a combined $277,000 to weatherize their buildings, their annual savings amounted to $100,000, covering the costs within three years. Among the Chicago landmarks already onboard for retrofits are the Sears Tower and the Merchandise Mart.
The same principle applies to running a household. The plan claims that by replacing incandescent lightbulbs with fluorescent ones, homeowners would save $108 a year. Another $23 could be saved by unplugging televisions rather than keeping them on standby. More money could be found by turning down the thermostat by three degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, keeping car tires properly inflated and driving 10 fewer miles every week. These are among the 13 recommendations for how Chicagoans could change their behaviors in small but significant ways, saving themselves $800 annually in the process. If only half of the city’s residents followed the carbon-saving recommendations, 800,000 metric tons of emissions would disappear.
All told, the plan lays the groundwork for an economic climate change in Chicago, as renewable energy and green technology companies begin to locate in a city openly sympathetic to their interests. This is Daley’s master plan, his bid to secure a legacy. He wants the “Windy City” sobriquet to describe a Chicago whose electricity comes in large part from wind farms instead of the past century’s smoky coal-burning behemoths. Time will reveal whether his plan is visionary or mostly hot air. Either way, Chicago won’t be fazed. Most people assume the city got its nickname from the breezes off Lake Michigan. But the phrase was actually coined in the 19th century to describe the blustery hype of Chicago’s politicians, who made bold promises at a moment of tremendous change in America.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Chicago Goes Green".