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Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs at the Respiratory Health Association, speaking to a crowd at Thursday's Chicago Clean Power Coalition rally outside City Hall.

Clean energy activists rally at City Hall, advocate Community Energy Choice referendum

by Drew kann
Oct 04, 2012

More than 100 Chicagoans, clad in varying shades of green, descended on City Hall Thursday to show support for a referendum that they say will reduce energy costs for consumers and benefit the environment.

If approved on Nov. 6, the Community Energy Choice referendum would give the City of Chicago the authority to negotiate directly with energy providers on behalf of the city’s residents.

Shouting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, dirty energy has got to go!” supporters of the measure used the rally to inform citizens of the potential impact of the referendum. Organizers also called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to use the Nov. 6 vote as part of a broader strategy to invest in local renewable energy.

“This is about really taking the reins of our own energy here in Chicago and making sure that we’re supporting clean, local and renewable energy options,” said Christine Nannicelli, associate field organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

After passing out pamphlets and other educational material about the impending referendum on Clark Street in front of City Hall, several of the protesters entered the building and delivered over 2,500 petition signatures to the Mayor’s office.

“The petition is asking Mayor Emanuel to use this opportunity of Community Energy Choice to really craft a ground-breaking clean energy plan in Chicago to support new, local and clean energy sources like wind and solar,” Nannicelli explained. “We have a goal of getting as close to 100 percent of our energy from renewables as possible. We think that we can do it here in Chicago.”

Proponents of the referendum argue that by pooling the city’s 1.1 million eligible customers, as estimated by the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, the city could negotiate with energy providers to secure lower cost energy.

If the referendum passes, the city would be required to hold at least two public meetings to inform residents of the changes. Clean energy advocates plan to use these public meetings as a forum to demand that Chicago’s energy comes from renewable sources.

“Basically, whatever the customer wants, the marketplace is going to provide,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs at the Respiratory Health Association. “If the city is the customer going out and saying, ‘We want to buy power and we want to make sure that it’s renewable, clean, and local so that it helps to create jobs in the region,’ then we’re going to have to wait and see which companies come in and give the city the best deal.”

According to advocates of the measure, the biggest obstacle to its passage is that residents are largely uninformed about the potential impact.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do over the next month to get the word out that this is on the ballot, that this is a great opportunity, said Nannicelli. "So we’ve got our work cut out for us, but I’m very hopeful."