At last Friday's 7:30 a.m. special meeting, five of my colleagues on the village board voted to abandon its commitment to choosing a green source for the Oak Park Energy Aggregation Program. In previous years, Oak Park opted out of using Commonwealth Edison as its energy supplier and chose to "aggregate" with an alternative supplier. Until Friday, all of this supplier's energy came from green sources or green energy credits. Over the past two years, the environment benefitted and Oak Park citizens saved almost $5 million.
The choice before the board on Friday was to continue with an all-green choice or select an energy supplier that does not use all green energy, otherwise known as "brown" energy. The cost for green was about $5 per month higher for the average household.
The village staff, the village's paid energy consultant and the Environment and Energy Commission all recommended the green choice, despite the slightly higher cost.
There are unintended consequences, and costs, that accompany a choice that appears to save each household about $5 — like the extra cost to heat or cool one's home based on climate change (think about this past winter), or the impact of a decreased buyers pool for green energy. However, five trustees changed public policy and voted for the "brown" provider. This dramatic change in policy direction occurred at a last-minute and poorly publicized meeting held at an unexpected time of day.
Oak Park was the first community in the nation to make an all-green energy choice and has been honored with awards and increased investments for doing so. It's true that this board, including me, has been rightfully committed to containing costs — even when the choices have been difficult. But the board also has a responsibility to set public policy based on ethical choices that advance the values of the village. Climate change is a real and serious threat. The world our children will inherit is at stake — and worth an investment of $5 per month.
It is still possible to opt out and choose green as an individual. For those who feel remaining green is critical, make sure to look for the opt-out postcard in your pile of junk mail. As individuals, we can still choose green — but we can no longer be proud that as a community we are leading the way and demonstrating our environmental commitment through our investment in green energy.