Chicago in January.  If we have not experienced it we must all at least understand how bone-chilling cold it must be.  We rush in from the street and a hit with a warm wall of air, it is the most wonderful thing in the world at that moment.

But how did we get to this warm hug of air?  For the most part, natural gas.

But that all could be changing.  According to a recent article from GRIST, Chicago could be the first city in the country to turn to electric power in all of its new construction.  Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has proposed a phase-out of gas-powered heating systems and appliances in new construction. The Clean and Affordable Buildings Ordinance, which Johnson introduced earlier this year, would go into effect within a year of being approved by the city council.

Mayor Johnson shared “This is an opportunity not just to address climate, but we can build an entire economy around it,”

This effort started in 2022 with the city’s Building Decarbonization Policy Working Group.  They published a report that shared that 70% of Chicago’s heat-producing gases come from buildings and their energy use, emphasizing the importance of switching to all-electric systems.

And the change could combat both outdoor AND indoor pollutants.  GRIST reports the mayor and his allies see the move toward electrification in Chicago’s new buildings as a chance to combat indoor air pollution and high energy bills.

The impact:

The GRIST article stated that Chicago’s gas bills are unmanageable with a recent rate hike approval of $302 million.  This is mixing into an environment where 1 in 5 Chicago residents are more than 30 days behind on their gas bill.

But more than money, there is the impact on indoor and outdoor environments.  The Chicago Sun-Times detailed that the rule would enforce an indoor pollution standard that bans the use of dirty energy in new buildings measuring more than 10,000 square feet. In addition, the law would encourage people in older homes with gas-powered systems to adopt electric appliances by banning any substance that produces 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds) or more carbon dioxide per million British thermal units of energy.

The opposition:

Peoples Gas, the major gas utility in Chicago says “The proposed ordinance would increase cost and risk reliability for everyone, especially during the coldest day of the year.”  Other opposition came from the powerful unions, sharing that the proposal would restrict Chicagoans’ energy options.

“Homeowners should not have to choose affordability over going green,” Kristine Kavanagh, a member of the International Union of Engineers Local 150, told GRIST. “They should have options for both clean and affordable energy.”

The future:

Chicago could become the first major Midwestern city to outlaw gas in new construction.  This would help Illinois meet its goal of phasing out all dirty energy sources by 2050 and would reduce the cost of gas power across the city.

Other cities can be looked at as a model.  New York has taken the lead by banning gas-powered appliances in new homes and buildings. Los Angeles and Berkeley also outlawed gas power in new construction, though a federal court struck down Berkeley’s ban last year.

Even with the uncertain response, Chicago seems steadfast.  “We must design better outcomes that work for every building type and every neighborhood across Chicago. We must ensure that the benefits of transitioning to clean energy sources are accessible to all regardless of your zip code,” Angela Tovar, the city’s chief sustainability officer, told GRIST.