Concerns of climate change as well as the future of affordable energy weighs on the minds of more Americans and particularly the minds of people in Oak Park and River Forest.
The two communities have made progress in making houses and businesses more energy efficient and have seen the installation of dozens of solar energy systems. The Oak Park-River Forest Community Sustainability Report Card noted significant progress in reduced energy usage and greenhouse gases. Individual efforts continue while more joint efforts like Community Solar are being planned.
The time may have come for the two villages to take a bolder step toward sustainability goals. Oak Park and River Forest may wish to join the growing number of municipalities that plan to get all of their electric power from renewable energy sources. Ten cities so far have committed to 100% renewable electricity, under the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” initiative. Three of these cities are located in the Midwest — Grand Rapids, Michigan; Greensburg, Kansas; and Rochester, Minnesota.
Committing to 100% renewable electricity is a considerable undertaking, but Oak Park and River Forest have the means to do so if they have the will. One suggestion is a three-pronged strategy consisting of:
1) On-site generation
2) Community Solar from nearby sites, and
3) Buying power from large-scale wind and solar farms located further away.
More solar energy systems can be installed on Oak Park and River Forest buildings. But that will not achieve 100% generation. Two other two tools can complement individual systems. Community Solar enables electric customers to either buy a share of a large installation or otherwise agree to buy electricity from a large-size system (about two football fields’ size) that would be located on brownfields, landfills or other unused sites in the Cook County area — or elsewhere in the ComEd service territory. Community solar has been launched in over a dozen states around the U.S., and is in an early, voluntary phase in Illinois.
The third tool is to build upon the success of the municipal aggregation program, which has been successful in making electricity prices competitive. The aggregation program would use 100% renewable electricity but, instead of buying this electricity through short-term renewable energy credits, would use a Power Purchase Agreement from a much larger wind or solar power farm located further away. These installations would be in the planning or construction phase so that new, not reassigned, power would be added to the grid.
Committing to 100% renewable energy electricity at competitive rates would be an exciting proposition, contributing to less pollution and more economic development. These cost-effective technologies are available and policy is rapidly catching up. This goal would make a major contribution to our communities and our environment.
Oak Parker Mark Burger is a consultant for Seven Generations Ahead and a past president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association.