The Village of Oak Park started its pitch to local voters last week, asking them to support a ballot measure that would change how electricity is delivered to the community.

Back in January, the village board approved a binding referendum on the April 5 election ballot. Voters will be asked whether they want village hall to seek competitive bids for energy providers on the open market. 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 receiving energy from the current provider, Exelon.

On Feb. 24, Oak Park hosted the first of two meetings, giving voters a chance to learn more about the referendum. A second meeting is slated for March 22, at 6:30 p.m., at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake.

In a brief presentation last week, K.C. Poulos, the sustainability manager for village hall, explained the logistics. If the referendum is approved by voters in April, Oak Park will host two hearings to determine what residents want from their new power company. Is a cheaper rate the only factor, she asked, or would residents also want to explore more environmentally-friendly sources, such as solar or wind?

Oak Park would then craft a “request for proposals,” asking companies to bid on providing an alternative energy supply in the village. Officials emphasized that the community won’t 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. Poulos said ComEd would likely also oversee the “opt out” program, providing notices and forms to customers who want to continue getting their juice from Exelon.

Typically, municipalities sign on for one-year contracts with the alternative power companies, Poulos said. Such an agreement would first require approval by the village board.

The state of Illinois paved the way for Oak Park’s referendum back in August 2009. That’s when legislators approved “community choice aggregation,” which allows municipalities to seek competitive bids for energy on behalf of residents and small businesses. Currently, power is available through 23 different companies, according to the village.

Oak Park didn’t start pursuing the idea until this year because aggregation didn’t make economic sense until more recently, village officials said back in January.

Other communities are placing similar referenda on their ballots this April — including Oak Brook, DeKalb and Orland Park. Village hall believes the new program could be in place as early as this fall.

What the referendum asks

Shall the Village of Oak Park have the authority to arrange for the supply of electricity for its residential and small commercial retail customers who have not opted out of such a program?

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