Are you sick of rising energy costs, with no alternative power source to provide relief in sight? Well, the Village of Oak Park is giving weary residents a chance to voice any displeasure, with a referendum that’s making its way onto the ballot in the April election.

Oak Park is placing a binding referendum on the April 5 ballot, which will ask voters whether they want village hall to seek competitive bids for energy prices. Residents would then be able get a cheaper, more environmentally friendly source of power, unless they chose to “opt out” of the program and continue with their current agreement with ComEd.

“We are on the cusp of a significant evolution in the way in which electrical energy is provided to residents and businesses,” Village President David Pope said Monday.

The state of Illinois paved the way for Oak Park’s referendum back in August 2009. That’s when legislator’s approved “Community Choice Aggregation,” which allows municipalities to seek competitive bids for energy on behalf of residents and small businesses. But Oak Park didn’t start pursuing the idea until this year because aggregation didn’t make economic sense until more recently, village officials said Monday.

If the referendum is approved by voters in April, Oak Park will then craft a “request for proposals” asking companies to make offers for an alternative energy supply in the village. Officials emphasized that Oak Park will not be obligated to accept those bids if the results are unfavorable.

ComEd, meanwhile, would continue to administer power, and provide customer service to residents, such as billing and responding to power outages, according to the village.

The village board voted 5-1 in favor of having the referendum placed on the April ballot, with Trustee Jan Pate absent. Trustee John Hedges voted no, worried that Oak Park wouldn’t have enough time to get its ducks in a row before the election.

“There’s a lot of questions that people are going to have that we’re not going to be able to answer, and along with that, the concern is who is going to provide the information for this referendum?” Hedges said. “It just seems like there’s an awful lot to do here before April 5.”

Other trustees also expressed a strong need for the village to educate the public about the referendum before voters head to the polls.

A group of several consultants and officials from power companies crowded into council chambers to answer questions from trustees, and to advocate for “community choice aggregation” in Oak Park.

“Aggregation is a means to allow you to buy cleaner, much more efficient power at comparable costs,” said John Kelly, who’s with the Galvin Electricity Initiative, a Northbrook-based nonprofit that advocates for better energy choices.

The Oak Park village clerk has to certify the referendum with the county by Feb. 3. After that, village hall plans to reach out to the public through meetings, press releases, social media and inserts in water bills to tell the public about the ballot measure. Other communities, such as Crest Hill, Darien and Elburn, plan to have similar questions on the ballot in April.

This story has been updated to correct the nature of the binding referendum. The referendum will ask voters whether they want village hall to seek competitive bids for energy prices, and residents would then be able get a cheaper, more environmentally friendly source of power, unless they choose to “opt out” of the program and continue with their current agreement with ComEd.

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