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Article updated: 7/10/2013 7:24 AM

Chicago to get more electricity from wind farms

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Illinois wind farms now supply 5 percent of the electricity used by Chicago residents and small businesses who participate in a new aggregation program, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said Tuesday, lauding what environmentalists say could serve as a model for other communities.

Hundreds of Illinois cities and towns have adopted aggregation, which allows them to bundle residential and small business customers to buy cheaper electricity in bulk from smaller suppliers. Chicago last year chose Integrys Energy Services to supply electricity to customers in an effort to save money and to ease pollution by eliminating coal-based power.

The other 95 percent of electricity supplied by Integrys comes from natural gas.

Commonwealth Edison still is responsible for delivering electricity and fixing outages, although customers can opt out of aggregation and get their power from ComEd or another supplier.

Chicago officials said more than 750,000 residential and business customers have saved almost $21 million since the program took effect in February.

An Illinois Institute of Technology study released Tuesday concluded that by turning away from coal-fired power, Chicago has reduced its carbon emissions by 16 percent and its emissions of gases that contribute to acid rain and ozone depletion by 98 percent.

"By supporting Illinois wind farms and eliminating coal from the city's portfolio, Chicagoans will build a cleaner, healthier environment for our children," Emanuel said in a written statement.

Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin said he knows of no other Illinois city that has a coal-free aggregation deal, but he hopes others follow Chicago's lead.

"Chicago has shown a new path forward away from coal and toward new energy," he said, adding that central Illinois cities could use a similar approach to obtain local wind-energy sources. He said that, over time, he hopes communities move away from all fossil fuels, including natural gas, "but we're moving there one step at a time."

"It's a great innovation that I hope can be imitated and improved upon," Darin said of Chicago's program.

Chicago officials said it was important that the city buy power from within the state and that they will consider increasing the wind power supply when the current Integrys contract ends next June. The city has an option to extend the contract through May 2015.

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