By Laurie Casey
Solar panels on all 11 public school roofs? Windmills atop Village Hall? A local clean energy network that feeds energy into our grid? Some ideas never see the light of day, but thanks to the efforts of citizens and staff, these clean energy projects, or others like them, may become reality in the coming years.
It's been about six months since we wrote about resident Mac Robinet's bright idea to create a fund to install renewable energy projects in the Village. Just weeks ago, that idea got the green light from Village trustees.
There are still details to iron out, like how the fund exactly will be deployed--whether for specific clean energy projects, a baseline research project we can benchmark against, or something else, but this decision is a big step forward for the Village.
Robinet, along with two other residents -- GCC member Jim Babcock and Mark Burger, former president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association -- successfully presented the idea of a "direct investment" fund to board members through a series of meetings and discussions.
"Installing a significant clean energy project in the Village will show all residents what collective action can accomplish,” says Babcock. “This project gives people hope that we can move towards ending our dependence on dirty energy.”
Furthermore, Oak Park will serve as a model for other communities who are considering similar initiatives. Research shows that as individual residents and businesses adopt renewable energy, their neighbors are more likely to adopt it. See this recent article on research from Yale University on how solar power becomes "contagious."
The Power of Collective Action
Under the new Oak Park plan, the Village electric energy aggregation program will capture three-tenths of one cent of the fee residents pay monthly to the energy company. This money will be pooled to create a $400,000 fund for supporting local renewable energy projects in 2016.
If used wisely, this clean energy fund can address the problem of climate change by reducing the Village's carbon footprint. Installations on public, commercial or residential buildings can reduce or eliminate carbon emissions from electricity use (think: air conditioning, lighting, computer usage, etc.) . If the program is successfully renewed year after year, the fund can also support local jobs in the renewable energy economy in an ongoing way.
Oak Park's decision comes at a time when many communities are also developing community renewable energy programs. In these programs, people combine their resources and invest in installations of renewable energy that feed directly into their local energy grids. The result is less pollution, less carbon emissions and more affordable energy bills.
For several years, Oak Park's energy aggregation program invested in Renewable Energy Certificates, an indirect form of investment. The new investment fund will replace our investment in RECs.
What Happened to RECs?
Last spring, Robinet got the ball rolling with an important analysis of RECs. The analysis showed that RECs were not effective in bringing renewable energy to the Village. His analysis, along with other support and ideas from citizen volunteers on the Environment & Energy Commission, convinced Village trustees. Led by the mayor, they voted unanimously to support a fund for clean energy investment.
"The Village staff and manager also supported it. In fact, Manager Cara Pavlicek incorporated our suggestion to triple the size of the clean energy fund in the official electricity purchase contract,” says Babcock.
Now, as a community, we need to decide how to spend this money for the best results. Village Hall says it wants to make a decision by early 2016. Various residents and leaders are putting forth proposals.
So, what can you do?
Look for upcoming opportunities in early 2016 to voice your support for local installations of renewable energy sources.
Watch GCC enews and social media for updates.
Express your opinion to our Village government at public meetings.
If you see Mac, Jim, Mark, any Village trustee, or staff, thank them for their efforts!