The local power company was at Oak Park Village Hall on Monday to brief trustees on what it says are several innovative programs it is trying out in Oak Park and the in select communities in northern Illinois. But Oak Park residents who showed up at the meeting said the company should first focus on its most simple task – providing people with reliable electricity.

Last week, ComEd unveiled several pilot programs that are going to be part of its “smart grid innovation corridor,” which includes Oak Park and River Forest, along with other neighboring communities.

In one pilot, ComEd is picking customers to test out solar panels at their homes. That program will start in spring 2011. The test will span three years and is partly funded by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

ComEd is also planning to install charging stations this fall to encourage the use of electric vehicles. And they’re working on an “intelligent’ power substation in Oak Park that will automatically monitor and analyze power usage, which will go live in December.

But an innovation that might most interest Oak Parkers is ComEd’s planned “self-healing” power lines, which the company says will automatically fix power outages and shorten the time in which people are in the dark.

A group of village residents from the 900 block of Hayes were at Monday’s meeting, complaining of the frequent, unexplained outages they’ve experienced on their street.

“We’re tired of assuming that every time there is an outage, it could be more than a few hours until it is repaired,” said Esther Brodsky. “I now sleep with a flashlight in my bed … Obviously there is something wrong with the equipment.”

Donna Bindokas says residents have taken to calling the 900 block of Hayes the “Lower 9th Ward.”

“Our power is off for absolutely no reason, frequently,” she said.

ComEd started installing new “smart” electric meters in Oak Park in January. Altogether, it is installing 131,000 smart meters in homes throughout nine communities, including Oak Park and River Forest. The smart meters give information about people’s power use to help consumers make “smarter” choices.

The new pilot programs stem from the smart meters, according to Rich Gordus Jr, smart grid manager for ComEd. They hope to start up the self-healing power lines in December, before the start of next year’s storm season.

-Marty Stempniak

Join the discussion on social media!