As the dust settles from the brown energy fiasco in Oak Park, I want to offer a little different perspective:

The question, as the village board saw it, seems to have been: how much extra should we pay to have green energy? When they voted, they apparently were looking at an extra amount averaging $5 per customer, and they judged that to be too much. Now we are looking at an extra amount of less than $1 per month per customer, and most everyone seems to think that’s not too much (although most people, by inaction, are going to end up with the dirty energy).

But if we look at the real price of fossil fuel energy, green energy should be cheaper.

Fossil-fuel use does enormous damage that is not paid for by the fossil-fuel companies or their customers, but by society and the biosphere as a whole.

Coal mining involves mountaintop removal and the devastation of large areas of Appalachia. Then burning the coal causes all kinds of respiratory disease and asthma. Fracking for natural gas pollutes our water supply and releases nasty unknown toxins into the atmosphere. Some methane escapes — and it is a tremendously potent greenhouse gas. Oil comes, increasingly, from the filthy tar sands of Alberta. The land is destroyed. The oil is more combustible, causing more disastrous accidental explosions and fires.

But most important of all, every fossil fuel contributes to the incredible threat of climate change.

Fossil fuels should pay for the damage they do. If they did, people would use less of them, and more renewable energy (or just use less energy). This could be accomplished with a carbon tax. The Citizens Climate Lobby advocates a tax be levied at the wellhead or the mine. It should be revenue-neutral. The money taken in should be returned to the population at large, on a per-capita basis (like what Alaska does with — ironically — its oil revenue).

This would make the market more honest. The price of fossil fuels would reflect their true cost. People would change behavior: buy more efficient cars, or electric cars. Or bikes. Or ride public transit. They would weatherize their homes. Renewable energy would get a tremendous boost. 

A study has shown that most people would gain: they would get more money in their rebate than the increase in their costs. Big energy users, people who fly a lot and drive Hummers, would pay more.

This is a solution that nearly all economists, Republican and Democratic, favor.

And it would have eliminated the big mess in Oak Park. If the costs of fossil fuels showed up on the bill, the decision for green energy would have been a no-brainer.

Doug Burke is an Oak Park resident.

How to ‘opt into’ green energy

How to ‘opt into’ green energy

To opt out of the village’s current “brown energy” default plan and opt into a green (100% renewable) energy alternative call Constellation, the village’s new energy provider, at 1-800-718-1493.

Tell them you want to “opt into” the green energy option. They’ll take you through the steps from there. 

The deadline is May 8.

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