Let's opt into green energy

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By Adam Salzman

Oak Park Trustee

Remarks on green vs. brown energy by Oak Park Trustee Adam Salzman during the village board meeting on Monday, April 21:

I wanted to say a couple of words on this topic because I have spent a lot of time over the past week or so engaging with a great many of my neighbors on this issue. I think the number of people who have directly engaged the board on this issue reflects the high priority all of us place on sustainability in the village of Oak Park, and I personally am very proud of the way we've worked through this as a community together. 

I think some additional context for this decision might be helpful. We are in this position today because the process the village decided to use to secure the most affordable renewable energy rate for our residents unfortunately did not yield the most competitive renewable energy rate. And that greatly concerned many of us on this board. 

Tonight's discussion of our energy procurement process actually began in January. That's when our former sustainability director, K.C. Doyle, recommended we use a reverse auction to get the best, greenest energy supply contract that we could find. And the board unanimously supported that approach. 

A little over two weeks ago, we got the apparent results of that auction, and we were puzzled because we had only received one bid. That bid was from Integrys, our previous electricity supplier, and it represented a steep price increase from the 2011 rate. At just over 8 cents per kilowatt hour, with ComEd due to raise its rates in June, accepting that bid would have actually resulted in a default increase of $15-20 per month. Not four dollars. Not five dollars. It would have been between four and five times that amount. 

It was troublesome to many of us that we only had one response bid come back from a renewable energy marketplace that many of us know provides a wide range of options at a variety of different price points. 

Simply put, to only have received a single proposal in response to our solicitation seemed very strange.

Then two weeks ago tonight, when the board showed up to vote on that single bid, our energy consultant suddenly told us — at the meeting — that the auction had been compromised because Integrys, when they entered their bid, originally placed their decimal point in the wrong place, and instead of 8 cents per kilowatt hour, their first bid was eight one-thousandths of a cent per kilowatt hour. Needless to say, no one was willing to try to compete for a lower bid after seeing that mistake. Somehow Integrys got it corrected to roughly 8 cents per kilowatt hour before it found its way into our board packet. 

If you go back and watch the video recording of that meeting, which is available on the village website, you will see that both the board and the manager were pretty upset, not just at the error but also because we were informed of the error belatedly, at the meeting. 

Our energy consultant, after informing us of the mistake at the meeting, then advised us, strangely in my view, that we should just go ahead and accept the Integrys bid anyway. 

But there was just no way our board was going to enter into a contract on the basis of an auction that didn't actually happen. Oak Parkers were promised that auction. We contracted for it. Without a legitimate auction, we had no idea what the market could provide for us. So the only responsible thing to do was demand a re-run of the auction. 

Our energy consultant told us that if we were going to actually hold the auction we'd contracted for, it had to be done by the end of the week. Otherwise, there wouldn't be enough time to give residents the opt-in/opt-out notice and everyone would be thrown back onto the ComEd plan. 

So that is how we ended up with a Friday morning meeting at 7:30 a.m. We simply had no choice. It was the absolute latest we could meet to allow for 48 hours notice, while still getting in under the wire to avoid us getting kicked back onto ComEd. 

So the second auction was run on Thursday and we met Friday morning to review the results. 

And this time, we again received only one green response bid — from Integrys. But it still represented a significant price increase. 

By this point many of us suspected, correctly as it turns out, that Integrys' second response bid of 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour was not competitive with the rates that existed in the wider renewable energy marketplace. And again, because of the impending increase in the rate that Com Ed would be charging for use of its transmission lines, the new rate would have meant an increase of $15-20 per month. Not between $4 and $5 per month as some have been saying.

So we had to make a choice. And the clock was ticking — we had to choose that morning if we wanted to avoid forfeiting the aggregation plan entirely. 

So I voted, along with my colleagues in the majority, for the lowest-priced brown option, Constellation, with the explicitly expressed understanding that we would also look for a more cost-effective option to be presented as a companion green option that all Oak Parkers could easily opt into. Anyone who watches the meeting of Friday, April 11, will see that at least four trustees indicated a desire to move in that direction. 

It is unfortunate that Constellation did not offer a more cost-effective green option as part of their bid. I don't know why they didn't. If they had, I suspect this board would have voted for it.

We pushed our decision as far out as we possibly could to try to get a more affordable default green option. We pushed it all the way to Friday morning, April 11 at 7:30 a.m. And the market turned up nothing except a bid from Integrys that was above market and the result of a flawed process. 

So after the vote, we did what the board said we would do from the beginning, and that's work to provide Oak Parkers with a convenient, cost-effective, 100 percent renewable choice that everyone can opt into. And that is what we are doing now: providing a green option to our residents through different channels for the next year — May 2014 through May 2015. In 2015, we will be able to revisit this again. 

Here is how it will work: 

All Oak Park households will get a copy of a form in the mail. In the lower right-hand column in a green box there are simple and accessible instructions for how Oak Parkers can choose a 100 percent renewable energy source for their home. It's easy. All you have to do is call the number listed and tell them you want the 100 percent renewable option for 7.57 cents per kilowatt hour. That's about a third of a cent less than the low bid we got from Integrys. And in summertime in the Midwest, that extra third of a cent can add up rather quickly. 

I urge everyone here tonight, everyone watching and everyone following this issue between now and May 8 to share this information with as many of your neighbors as possible, on Facebook and Twitter, hashtag #greenoakpark, and in person so that as many of us as possible sign up for the green option. 

I strongly believe that if all of us — the residents, the village, and every stakeholder — can get on the same page, pulling in the same direction between now and May 8, we can turn this challenge into an opportunity to advance and build on our reputation for green municipal initiatives. 

So let's seize that opportunity.

Reader Comments

34 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Ned Ryerson from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 7:18 PM

You all would be more effective if you used your clout with a certain disinterested president to see about forcing China and India to pollute less than to make your neighbors pay more.

Sky Hatter from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 2:12 PM

I received my opt-in/opt-out letter before I had seen the news, so I tossed it without thinking twice. I was able to opt in to green energy in 8mins and 40 seconds with just my ComEd account number. The most painful part was the terrible soprano sax on-hold music.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 9:42 AM

Just a side note. While we have concerns about the future of the earth, burning all your yard waste in a firepit all day long is not helping to keep the air we breathe clean. Don't just buy green, live green and try a compost pile. Your neighbors will love you for it.

Julie Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 6:40 PM

The only way our energy would be 100% green would be if there were wires built directly here from wind turbines or solar panels. We are all on the same energy "smart" grid -carrying 98% nuclear & fossil fuel energy products. A chart comes with your bill showing this. "Green" option means our money supports "RECs" ?" Renewable Energy Certificates ?" which support green energy production

Green  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 7:09 AM

@Not Quite--thank you for your respectful explanation and it makes sense. Such a confusing issue. Can I ask how you know these details well enough to be able to explain them so well that they are easy to understand? I can see why this mix of energy wouldn't get explained because then it seems to negate the opt-in to green. Anyway, we'll still opt-in to help create market demand for green. Thanks again for the explanation.

Mary Unbehauen Rodrigo from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 12:36 AM

I appreciate Mr. Salzman for taking the time to explain what happened. I also applaud the board on their decision. If people really want to be green they can start in their own homes by reducing their energy consumption.

Not Quite How It Works  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 10:24 PM

So, no, you don't necessarily get "green" energy while your neighbor gets "brown". But what you have done is forced ComEd to buy enough green energy to cover the amount they would have had to buy for your usage from another supplier--thus lowering your impact with respect to overall energy demand from non-renewable sources.

Not Quite How It Works  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 10:22 PM

Okay, it's not the ComEd delivers green energy to you and brown to your neighbor... that's not how it works. What happens is this (over-simplified). Say the Village energy demands are 1000mW. ComEd can only generate 750mW. So, it has to buy 250mW on the market. It tries to do so as cheaply (read:brown) as possible. But along comes the green customers, who "opt green". Now, instead of buying 250mW "brown" they have to buy 225mW "brown" but 25mW "green" because you've chosen it.

Green  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 3:36 PM

You asked a good question, but then you undermined yourself by lobbing an insult. Com-Ed delivers the energy but can direct the energy so that my neighbor can get brown energy while we can get green energy. I don't have anymore technical details than that. I did check with the company though. I would suspect too that if a company did do some kind of deception that would be a huge legal issue.

How much you want to bet? from Reality  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 2:27 PM

Com Ed is going to deliver energy to Oak Park from where ever it is most cost effective in its system to do so at the time. It is not going to care whether it is from a wind farm or a nuke just because you think you are paying for green energy. Com Ed is not going to deliver green energy to Mr. Green's house while delivering brown energy to Mr. Brown next door. Are you people really this gullible all the time?

Green  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 2:00 PM

The village got us a better deal as far as renewables. It is not RECs anymore--our energy will actually come from a wind farm. As far as the collective amount--good--it's about time we spend on renewables. Brown energy had its day and has had plenty of subsidies, etc. There are many other things not on the balance sheet for all of you concerned about fiscal situations. It's been said, but the cost of brown energy goes far beyond what's on your bill.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 1:48 PM

@Yes We Can, Be careful. You don't wanna lose all the greenie one-issue support you worked so hard these last few weeks to add to your base. Your fangs are starting to show...you know what happened last time when y'all revealed your true colors right before the election. Take a deep breath. It's all gonna be okay. This is supposed to be about our beloved earth, right? ;-)

Hello!  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 1:34 PM

This discussion is ridiculous given the Village's finances. The Village (as well as the other taxing bodies) should go with the cheapest cost by default. If you are personally delusional enough to pay more for scams like RECs, that is your choice. You can opt-out.

Yes We Can from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 1:18 PM

@ "Bridgett" - you seem to be the "defender in chief" for Mr. Anan. i'm not sure I'm buying it anymore. @ Mr. Salzman - Agree a focus on a green alternative was discussed, its how you got there which seems to be missing from the public record. Fact remains: look at the heavy lift you are doing to get people to go green. Lighter lift would have been for the "brown opt-out". Got it backwards. Move on. It's done -- until next year.

Just Curious from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 3:14 PM

If we opt for green and are the only community to do so, will the power that runs through the Oak Park grid actually come from a different place? Or are we voting to tell Com Ed to get our community's worth of energy from another source. Wouldn't the majority of our power still come from Braidwood?

Jeff from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 3:10 PM

Okay, time to do some analysis. There are approximately 20,000 family units in Oak Park. Multiply this times an average of $60 a year and you get $1,200,000 that we will pay extra, as a community if we all go green. My individual amount doesn't bother me, but that is less money for local purchases, restaurants etc. That is the tradeoff we make.

Mick & Keith  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 2:08 PM

"PAINT IT BLACK ..."

David  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 11:08 AM

Also, I find it *deeply* troubling that there was *no* way found to correct the auction issue prior to bringing it to the board at the last minute. *This* is the quality of the consultants and management our Village is under??! Doesn't really inspire a lot of confidence. I've been through bidding processes before--corrections get issued all the time. Utterly ridiculous.

David  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 11:03 AM

Watched the video and I'm actually more upset at that farce. If the Board actually cared about doing more than lip service to "green" they would have simply flipped the option: made "green" the default and allow citizens to opt-in to brown. That would show *both* a commitment to green *and* public choice.

Adam Salzman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 9:30 AM

Mr. Kelly, not an attempt at justification. Just a recitation of facts that have hitherto been omitted from the discussion. And @"Opt for Green"- I would recommend you pull up the meeting from 4/11 and fast forward to 39 minutes in to watch the exchange between Trustee Ott and Cara Pavlicek. Then fast-forward to 41:45 and hear my remarks about the Village putting together an opt-in green campaign. These issues were discussed on 4/11. Bottom line, I have no desire to justify a bad process with a bad outcome. But I do want folks to know everything that happened. Oak Parkers deserve all the information, even if it disrupts tidy narratives.

Justine from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 8:52 AM

Oak Park has become a liberal elite neighborhood, clinging to buzz words and ideas that make some feel good but that only a handful can afford to act on. Many of you here are a vocal minority and ironically, you're making Oak Park un-affordable for the middle and lower classes to live which flies in the face of hypocrisy. Never mind the real affect on us non rich folks...me thinks maybe that's the ultimate plan - Ethnic cleansing, Oak Park Illinois, where only the rich fear to tread.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 12:49 AM

Just to let everyone know, your electric bill, regardless of green or brown, is going to go up by at least $15 a month for the electricity alone. (based on 900 kwh). Plus whatever ComEd's delivery increases will be. So now would be a good time to learn about conservation, if you don't have the extra couple hundred bucks a year to spend on electricity.

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 10:34 PM

Sorry - 7.47 and 7.9 - typo!

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 10:31 PM

The bottom line: There was a consultant who did not give the Village good service and created a situation where the Board was up against a deadline, requiring a special meeting on a weekday early morning. But that does not excuse the abandonment of Oak Park's leadership on green energy. The 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour mentioned at the 4/7 meeting was a mistake - the bid was made in mills p/kwh vs. cents p/kwh. Latching onto to that to justify the decision to go brown on a $4 to $5 per month difference is a false premise. The choice was between 4.57 p/kwh and 4.9 p/kwh. I am tired of the constant efforts to justify a bad decision. Period.

Jim Kelly from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 8:48 PM

Trustee Salzman depicts a flawed, chaotic process. However, a flawed process doesn't justify a flawed decision. The Board doesn't control what ComEd will eventually charge for delivering energy to homes. Their ONLY decision was whether green energy was worth 1/2 cent more than brown. They chose wrong for wrong reasons. I thank Trustee Lueck for her dissenting vote and for her far broader perspective on what's at stake for our community.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 8:13 PM

@David, I agree with you that the rates are bad. Other towns, that same week, got lower green (and brown) rates. So that is disturbing to me.//Regardless, even though all of this was messy, I think we are a better community because of this and all the interaction and discussion that has taken place. Sometimes you have to go through the muck and mire to get to something even better.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 8:09 PM

@ David, your assumption may not be correct. I do understand why you think that. But when OPers voted on the referendum in April 2011, they gave the Village the right to purchase bulk energy. What the Village does with that right is another issue. And that's why there is the this green/brown debate.

M. Perkins from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 7:44 PM

I switched from brown to green. If you are planning or looking for another energy company, make some you can opt out without a charge or can opt out at all. Make sure the company offers REC.'s (renewable energy credits) which Constellation does not (for now) Make sure there are no hidden charges too. It pays to do your homework. And why would the Board go with a company affiliated with Exelon, Com Ed's parent company?

David  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 6:53 PM

Set aside green/brown for a minute, and let's assume the whole impetus was to save money for Village residents. If we accept that as the goal, IT'S STILL A BAD DEAL. Seriously, go to www.chooseenergy.com and do some searching--there are at least a half-dozen plans that offer LOWER rates than the Village MAEP offering. And if you do some more searching on-line, you can find even more.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 5:25 PM

@Opt for Green, If you watch the Monday meeting, from the 7th, that led to the Friday meeting on the 11th, that may help fill in the blanks.

Opt for Green from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 5:13 PM

A counter point to this is due. Having watched the 7:30am Friday meeting where all but Trustee Lueck voted for brown vs. green energy, none of these points were made. The main point was about saving people $4-5/month, seniors on fixed income, the high cost of living in Oak Park, and that people had "choice". The fact remains -- a board majority should have voted for green, offering the brown energy source as the opt-out. They got it backwards, and now lots of extra work is going into this.

The problem Mimi  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 5:11 PM

Is that this village is filled with many self-righteous idiots who refuse to let facts get in the way of their opinions.

David from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 5:10 PM

Actually, let's take this opportunity to first OPT OUT of the bad deal negotiated by the Village--which not only requires special action to "go green" but also is at a pretty bad rate given other options on the market. Then, let's all go to the internet, do 5 min of searching where you can find at least 3 "green" alternatives, available to residents of Oak Park, that have better rates than the Constellation plan.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 4:24 PM

Having attended Monday's meeting, I wish the many attendees could have heard this BEFORE they spoke so vociferously. While their concerns were understandable, I don't think they would have been quite so hot under the collar had they heard this explanation of the flawed auction process. Unfortunately, Trustee Salzman's comments came after the crowd had shouted down and interrupted the Village President, and after at least half the crowd had left. Hope they will be more polite next time.

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