By Ken Trainor
Who would have thought something as wonkish as "electricity aggregation" would lead to so much electric aggravation.
I haven't criticized this village board much, but I am on this one. At the very least, the decision to downgrade our energy sources from "green" to "brown" to save a few bucks raises questions the public deserves to have answered.
Why was a special board meeting held on a Friday at 7:30 a.m.? Odd time and day, don't you think?
Was it "hastily called" as one letter-writer put it in Viewpoints last week?
If it was hastily called, was the matter also hastily decided?
What was the rush?
At the very least, this looks bad. It looks worse coming just before Earth Day. And it looks worse still when the village's sustainability manager recently departed and it appears the village will not sustain that position.
My customer notification from ComEd was sent out on the same day (April 11) the Oak Park trustees (with the exception of Collette Lueck who voted nay and Glenn Brewer who was absent) voted to approve the change. According to the letter, "ComEd supports electricity competition and customer choice." I was informed I can switch to a new supplier, but they quickly noted, in bold: "You cannot return to your previous supplier" (Integrys Energy Services Inc., that is). Why not? To find out, you have to call Integrys (presuming someone there is willing to talk about it).
"Customer choice," it seems, is a relative term. It also looks like ComEd is calling all the shots here.
"To learn more about customer choice," they say, "please visit ComEd.com/customerchoice or PlugInIllinois.org." That means we're on our own when it comes to finding a green energy supplier (other than Integrys) if we don't want to go with the unappetizing-sounding "brown energy" (presumably fossil fuels are involved).
Another question: Why is it that renewable sources of energy were cheaper before and now "brown" energy is cheaper? I try to avoid conspiratorial thinking, but is it paranoid to assume that a very large, powerful corporation didn't like having competitors cut in on their action, so they arranged to under-bid them? And why is the low bid still two cents per kilowatt hour higher than we've been paying the last few years?
Ain't choice grand? Well, that depends. There are different kinds of choice. There is, for instance, the choice of least resistance as opposed to the choice of most resistance. When the village arranged for renewable energy several years back, they made it easy for us. With this decision, our choice has now become considerably more difficult. We have to do all the legwork, the research, make the decision, arrange for a new supplier.
The reason, I think, most of us prefer the choice of least resistance is that our lives are already very complicated. This adds yet another layer of complexity. So while we technically have a choice, in realistic terms we don't have much of one.
A man whose family is held hostage technically has a choice about whether to do what is being demanded. If you don't feel you have a choice, do you really have one?
Choosing renewable energy was easy a couple of years back. Now it's difficult. When you make the choice as difficult as possible for people, that qualifies as a disincentive.
Trustees, too, had a choice when they voted. They could piss off those who feel they're paying too much in taxes, or they could piss off the folks who believe in sustainability. To put it more bluntly, they chose the "taxes are killing me" people over the "don't kill the planet" people.
In other words, they chose whining taxpayers over the planet. Just saying.
Corporations, meanwhile, those pseudo-persons with superhuman influence, also have a choice. They can actually allow competition (which they claim is the most sacred tenet of their free-market faith) or they can only pretend to allow it (in order to "stay more competitive"). It's not hard to see a large corporation protecting its self-interests here.
This happened once before, back in the mid-1990s when Waste Management made Oak Park an offer it couldn't refuse, so we cut loose a mom-and-pop recycler in favor of the large corporation, which has been collecting our recycling ever since. Do they do a better, more eco-friendly job of it? How would we know? I guess we have the "choice" to investigate.
Because our lives are so busy, we depend on local government to do the investigating for us and the elected trustees to protect our "best" interests. Did village hall do a good job for us in this instance? Did the village board, volunteers all, with lives even busier than ours (because they're on the board) deliberate sufficiently before taking this vote?
They will have to answer that. But they did do one thing for us.
They've shown us that the road to sustainability is a lot longer than we thought.