Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Windy City is one of the most prominent and important cities in all of the U.S. The largest city in the region by far, Chicago serves as a crucial hub of commerce and culture within the Midwest.
Chicago by itself is already the third largest city in the entire country with a population of nearly 2.7 million people. But the surrounding region is also densely populated, making it the third largest metro area at roughly 9.8 million people.
The city is one of the more diverse areas of the country too, first founded by a man of African and French descent and eventually followed by waves of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Italy and the Balkans in the 1800s. The city became a major destination for black migrants in the early 1900s and Hispanics later in the century.
Chicago began largely as trading hub, conveniently located along the Great Lakes, but near the Mississippi River. But the city developed an incredibly diverse economy as it grew, expanding into manufacturing, finance and, more recently, smaller high-tech ventures. The city also plays host to some of the country’s most prominent public and private universities, including several important research institutions.
With such a wide array of heavy industries, Chicago has always had a strong need for electricity to power its economy. Particularly being so close to coal country in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, this led the state to rely largely on the traditional fossil fuel. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the state relied on coal for more than 46 percent of its electricity in 2010. Nearly all of the remainder, however, came from nuclear energy, which was a major part of Chicago utility company Commonwealth Edison’s (ComEd’s) portfolio.
This mix of energy was good enough to give Illinois middle-tier electricity rates, but the more congested Chicago regularly saw electricity prices of around 1 cent per kilowatt-hour more than the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and at some points they spiked to nearly 3 cents above the average.
Illinois began electricity deregulation in 1997, but at first limited this to only businesses, only opening up the residential market 10 years later. It took several years for competition between electricity companies to heat up, but there are now a number of retail electricity providers operating in ComEd’s service area.
Between this shift and the implementation of renewable portfolio standards, the state has seen growth in renewable electricity as well, with some providers specializing in wind and solar energy. As of 2010, this still amounted to only 4.7 percent of the state’s capacity, but that represents 15-fold growth from a decade before.