Emissions survey data from 2021 show a slow recovery in Evanston’s electricity and gasoline consumption from decreases during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an accelerating adoption of electric vehicles by residents and visitors.

Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator Cara Pratt shared the data and conclusions with the Environment Board at its Thursday, Sept. 8, meeting.

The information comes from a draft of the 2021 greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which Pratt will officially present to the City Council at the end of October as part of her biannual update on the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP).

Pratt presented charts which show:

The amount of electricity consumed from the ComEd grid across all of Evanston each year since 2004. Credit: Cara Pratt
  • In 2021, Evanston consumed the second-lowest amount of electricity from the ComEd grid of any year since tracking began in 2004, beaten only by 2020.
  • Similarly, the amount of gasoline purchased at Evanston gas stations only slightly increased in 2021 from the sharp decline of 2020.
A line graph shows the amount of gasoline purchased in Evanston each year since 2013, based on the city’s motor fuel tax revenues. Credit: Cara Pratt

“I’ll be really curious to see what 2022 looks like with gas prices and how that’s changed,” Pratt said.

But while gasoline and overall electricity consumption is down, electric vehicle usage is up.

The number of electric vehicles registered to Evanston ZIP codes each year, based on data provided by the State of Illinois. Credit: Cara Pratt

Data provided by the state shows that EV registration in Evanston has steadily increased since 2017, totaling more than 650 cars to date.

And use of the city’s free EV charging stations, scattered throughout the city’s parking garages and surface lots, made a strong rebound last year from the dip in 2020 and is now breaking city records, according to Pratt.

“Over the past two months, we hit 600 kilowatt hours in a single day, and then 800 kilowatt hours in a single day like two weeks later,” Pratt said.

A line graph shows the amount of electricity consumed each year by electric vehicles at the city’s free charging stations since 2013. Credit: Cara Pratt

Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward), who will officially join the Environment Board in October, asked if this data included the use of Tesla Superchargers; Pratt said it did not, and that she will include Tesla chargers in her data requests for 2022.

Nieuwsma also noted the unsustainability of offering free EV charging into the future.

“As electric vehicle usage increases, at some point, the city’s not going to be able to continue giving away free electricity to everybody,” Nieuwsma said. “Future conversations to follow on that.”

Fitting CARP into the budget

The board also discussed how to ensure CARP goals will be included and pursued in the city’s annual budget. Nieuwsma said budget discussions are already underway for 2023, and cautioned the board should prepare for a “tough” cycle due to personnel constraints and new leadership across the city.

“It’s far easier to put stuff into the initial request than to get it in afterwards,” Nieuwsma said. “Let’s keep track of things we want in the 2023 budget and make sure the appropriate department is requesting them.”

In Evanston, the city manager is tasked with drafting the annual budget based on requests and negotiations with the city’s various departments. The draft then goes to city council for review, which negotiates with the city manager and other officials on revisions.

When a majority of council members vote to approve a draft of the budget, it is adopted as policy for the next calendar year.

Board member Kimberly Marion Suiseeya suggested implementing an accountability system through a city ordinance, such that the city’s budget is required to include CARP goals for it to be legal and valid. She said this could help reinforce CARP against mission drift and apathy from city officials into the future.

“You can’t have it relying on the city manager and the political will of the city council to do these things,” Marion Suiseeya said. “If you have something as ambitious as CARP with no strong implementation mechanisms, then you’re constantly pushing against the forces that don’t necessarily need to be there.”

Nieuwsma disagreed with the need for a requirement-by-ordinance, and said April’s emergency resolution adopting CARP implementation as a goal of the council is a better way to set priorities. He noted that other council goals such as equity do not have such ordinances, and said it would be more practical to ensure implementation by working directly with city staff and the city manager on the budget.

“We need to make sure the city manager takes this seriously…I have no reason to believe [Luke Stowe] won’t,” Nieuwsma said. “I am interested in making things happen rather than creating paperwork that’s just paperwork.”

Alex Harrison reports on local government, public safety, developments, town-gown relations and more for the RoundTable. He graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in June...