Goodbye Gas Stoves? Proposal Seeks to Make All New Construction in Chicago Use Electric Appliances

If you’re looking to build a new home or business in Chicago, it might not be furnished with natural gas appliances if City Council members pass the Clean and Affordable Buildings ordinance.

Advocates say the proposed ordinance aims to combat climate change and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, while critics believe it would increase cost and risk reliability.

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Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward), chair of the Environmental Protection and Energy Committee, is one of 15 co-sponsors of the ordinance.

“We know that we need to focus on green carbon emissions and we need to do it now,” Hadden said. “New construction is the easiest place for us to start. We know that it’s cleaner, more affordable and it’s safer. There’s a reason so many of our high-rise developments already use 

Electricity, so we’re looking to follow in the footsteps of New York City and Los Angeles.”

The proposed ordinance has the support of Mayor Brandon Johnson, but failed to advance directly to a committee hearing and vote, an indication it faces an uncertain future amid significant opposition.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward), along with 28 other sponsors, introduced a resolution to require a working group be formed to further study this policy and make sure the city is “doing this in a responsible manner.”

“When we take a look at what’s occurred in Berkeley, California … and also the pending litigation in New York, what I’m saying is let’s let this court case play out, figure out the path moving forward,” Villegas said. “I think a working group with all the subject matters on both sides is important before putting an ordinance forth.”

This ordinance stems from the Chicago Building Decarbonization Working Group Recommendations Report, the work of 53 technical experts, civic leaders and others. 

Citizens Utility Board is a consumer advocacy organization and supporters of the ordinance, saying they’re deeply concerned about the current state of affairs for natural gas customers in the city of Chicago. 

“We have access to how many people are behind on their bills, facing disconnection, and how much they owe. We have that data by ZIP code and it’s staggering and alarming,” said Sarah Moskowitz, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Utility Board. “Vast swaths of the city are already incapable of affording to hear their homes.”

Meanwhile, Marc Poulos, executive director of the nonprofit Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, doesn’t believe it’s productive to focus on the 1 percent of the housing stock that’s “the most energy efficient” being entered into the fleet of buildings in Chicago.

He and his team are pushing for a more “holistic approach” to decarbonization.

“The reality is that if you take someone, and you want to compare us to New York, we should be doing things like off-shore wind, doing that in the Great Lakes so we bring transmission actually to the city of Chicago,” Poulos said. “But New York’s already moved forward in their state legislature to approve those types of things. Springfield has not approved off-shore wind. We are the organization that actually introduced legislation for geothermal networks in the city of Chicago and state of Illinois ... .Until we’re going to get to a full-scale program to lower greenhouse gas emissions, we just think this is the cart before the horse.”

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