After severe thunderstorms this summer, some Oak Park residents complained of frequent power outages. Some speculated that there's something wrong with the village's electrical infrastructure.
But a new proposal within the village could give Oak Park a "perfect power" system that would reduce outages by 70 percent while being delivered more cheaply and in a more environmentally friendly fashion.
"We are proactively improving our grid system here in Oak Park, rather than reactively fixing things when they break," said K.C. Poulos, sustainability manager for the Village of Oak Park.
Poulos said the exploration of what's called "perfect power" in Oak Park is an experiment. It's being undertaken by village hall, along with the Citizens Utility Board, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Illinois Science and Technology Center and the Galvin Electricity Initiative, a group that advocates better power options for consumers.
John Kelly of Galvin gave a presentation to the village board on Sept. 14 about the perfect power idea, which has also been implemented on the campus of IIT and in Naperville.
Such a power grid would not replace the one provided by ComEd, Poulos said. Rather, it would involve a collaboration of engineers and industry experts, working together to design a prototype grid that would result in more reliable power in Oak Park.
Village officials took a tour of the perfect power system on the IIT campus recently. The elements of that grid included a system of redundant wires underground where, if one is knocked out, the duplicate can just keep providing power, according to Poulos. The system also used "self-healing" power lines, where the system can repair itself if part of it goes out.
Oak Park's perfect power system would be different from Naperville's, where the city is, in effect, its own utility company.
"What we want to do here in Oak Park is achieve the same thing, but through our relationship with ComEd and become kind of a testing ground, and eventually an example of what can be done, system-wide," Poulos said.
The collaboration is exploring the possibility of going out and purchasing "greener" energy sources to be offered to residents as an alternative to what they have. Such an option has already been explored in Marin County, Calif. Residents would be offered a "light green" option of power, that uses 50 percent renewable energy, or a "deep green" that uses 100 percent. That power, Poulos said, could come in nuclear, hydro, solar or wind form.
A letter of intent to pursue perfect power in Oak Park is currently being crafted, and Poulos expects the village, the Citizens Utility Board, IIT, the Illinois Science and Technology Center and Galvin to sign it within the next month.
The initiative will likely be implemented over the next 10 years. Poulos anticipates that it will be paid for using in-kind services from the entities, grants and private investments. It will likely cost millions of dollars and will also require investments from ComEd, along with its customers.
"A letter of intent doesn't bind us to anything other than agreeing to work on this concept together, so there is no financial layout associated with this process." Poulos said.
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