Tom Bassett-Dilley checks his usage on his smart meter, part of ComEd's Smart Grid program.

Com Ed is pulling the plug on the “Smart Grid” program, which included Oak Park, after the Second Appellate Court ruled that fees assessed to customers were subsidizing ComEd’s research and development.

Oak Parkers, at least, will be able to keep the 20,000 real-time smart meters Com Ed installed here – out of 131,000 already in place in nine local communities.

What’s been put on hold is Com Ed’s Smart Grid plan to upgrade its North Boulevard substation, which had been scheduled to start next month. That’s disappointing for village officials who were looking forward to fewer power outages.

“We do need to upgrade our electric grid. It is beyond ancient. We need for our residents and businesses to experience reliable energy,” said K.C. Poulos, the village government’s sustainability manager. “We want to reduce those outage occurrences and increase the reliability rate.”

Oak Park is also losing its shot at two solar-powered electric car chargers and a free program that would give solar panels to 100 homes in the nine participating communities.

The electric utility will also end its tailored customer communication campaign which sent letters comparing customers’ electric usage to their neighbors. Poulos believes these letters were effective in Oak Park.

“We’ve got anecdotal evidence that people were taking action because of the smart meter mailings. People were seeing the comparative charge with their neighbors and saying, ‘Oh my goodness,'” said Poulos.

Com Ed is appealing the decision which involved $5 million in extra fees charged to all customers to pay for Smart Grid. Com Ed says in its appeal that electric companies need an incentive and “cost recovery” to invest in smart power grids.

Meanwhile, Oak Parkers are still able to use their smart meters to determine their own energy use through websites at Com Ed and Citizen’s Utilities Board (CUB).

Smart meters are the “wave of the future,” Poulos said. “There will be smart appliances like your refrigerator. Or you’ll be able to use your iPhone to turn up your thermostat before you get home from work. Your house will be will be acting smart about its energy use while you were gone.”

Even though the substation won’t be updated next month, Oak Park is working to help ComEd update and replace antiquated electrical equipment.

The village is partnering with the non-profit Galvin Electricity Initiative and the Illinois Institute of Technology to prepare a draft of a comprehensive upgrade plan for ComEd in January 2011. “My hope is that [ComEd is] pleased that someone is working collaboratively to solve the problem. Everyone is eager to work with Oak Park because of our forward thinking in the realm of energy. It all creates a sense of cooperativeness and collaboration,” said Poulos.

Solar shines on Avenue garage project

On a brighter note, Oak Park is making headway on its plans to power The Avenue parking garage with solar energy. Last week, the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity awarded the village a $495,000 grant to partially fund the installation of solar panels on the top level of the North Boulevard garage.

If the balance of the funding can be secured, village officials say the electrical cost of operating the garage will be substantially reduced.

K.C. Poulos, the village government’s sustainability manager, accepted the grant at an event held at south suburban Governors State University. Also receiving state grants were a wind turbine project at the school and a geo-thermal initiative in Joliet.%uFEFF

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Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...