The road to establishing the village's energy provider has been a bumpy one with the decision by the village board to switch from renewable energy as the default option to so-called brown energy derived from fossil fuels.
Religious leaders and residents have flooded village hall with emails, letters and petitions opposing the decision, and they turned out in force at a public meeting, Monday night, to voice their displeasure over the decision.
Gary Cuneen, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, said that with the decision to switch to brown energy, the board has "relinquished Oak Park's role as a green energy leader."
Cuneen argued that comments made by board members concerning the effect the cost differential (between the green and brown power bids from an auction of energy providers) would have on low-income families could have been addressed without switching to fossil fuels. That differential was initially expected to be $5 per month per average household.
"Rather than pit low-income seniors against our children and future generations in your decision process, let's problem-solve," Cuneen said. "We have 1,972 low-income households in Oak Park that live below the federal poverty level. Two compact fluorescent lights in Oak Park for $10 would more than erase the per month extra cost for green energy and would have been an opportunity for energy saving tips in education, which would save money and circulate more dollars through our community."
Cuneen noted such a move would have cost under $20,000 and allowed Oak Park to remain green.
Under the new energy structure, residents are able to opt in to green energy, but the village's energy consultant says only about 10 percent of residents are likely to take the steps to make such a change. The village's new energy provider, Constellation, also will provide the green energy option. Since the green energy "opt-in" option was not part of the auction process, but instead negotiated by village staff, the green power option is now only about $1 a month higher for the average consumer.
"Thanks to negotiations the brown price is only slightly less than the green option, but its hidden costs are much greater than the current monthly gap of 91 cents or the previous gap of $4.50," said resident Anna Garcia Doyle at the Monday board meeting.
"Continuing to build fossil fuels into our daily habits whenever we switch on the light is not an option for a brighter future," she added.
Doyle noted that a petition circulated throughout the village has gathered nearly 500 signatures in support of green energy.
Religious leaders have also chimed in on the issue, with representatives of the Interfaith Green Network of Oak Park-River Forest, a network of 22 congregations that promotes environmental sustainability, sending a letter to village hall last week opposing the decision.
"We in the faith community refer the trustees to the Oak Park-River Forest Sustainability Plan — a plan in which we and all other segments of the community had a great deal of input — for some preferred solutions to our long-term viability and resilience," the letter states. "Those solutions include the increased use of clean energy sources, support for energy-efficiency programs and green transportation options."
Nick Bridge, chairman of the village's Environment and Energy Commission, a citizens advisory commission, said that although the village's previous energy aggregation program established the village as a leader in sustainability, the issue is more than a matter of prestige.
"The major value of contracting for green, or clean, power has been the demand for wind power," he said. "Because of the action you took last week, the only way now we can contribute to this demand is by most of us taking the trouble and time to sign up for the green option. Let's hope we can rally our friends and neighbors to support that green option."
Trustee Colette Lueck, the only board member to vote against the decision to adopt the brown energy plan, commended residents for writing village hall and showing up to make their voices heard. She urged them to spread the word about the option to choose the slightly more expensive green-energy option.
"We are counting on you to take the energy in this room that drove you here today and let every single person you know, know how to choose green," she said.
Board President Anan Abu-Taleb said the decision to choose brown energy would save an aggregate of more than $1 million, but he was jeered by residents who packed the village chamber when he said, "Judging the board by one decision I think is kind of unfair to us as a board. I know we work very hard."
He noted that village staff is going to work to get the word out about opting in to the green alternative.