The Oak Park Board of Trustees move one step closer to setting a course for some of the nearly $1 million in green energy funds the village has collected through a voluntary program created in 2015.

Trustees discussed the topic in March and directed village staff to return with additional information about ideas, such as using LED green-energy bulbs in streetlights, installing solar panels on Oak Park Village Hall and building a large-scale solar project outside the community. 

The Community Choice Electrical Aggregation program is voluntary, allowing residents to send three-tenths of a cent per kilowatt hour of their electric bill to the renewable energy fund.

Although trustees have not made a formal decision on how to spend the funds — the program generates about $400,000 a year — the board appeared to have consensus on spending about $100,000 a year installing LED light bulbs on streetlights in the village. 

The topic of creating better lighting became an issue last year and in early 2018, following a string of carjackings that took place in the village, which prompted residents to call for better lighting in the neighborhoods.

The program could save the village as much as $25,000 a year in lower electricity costs, according to Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.

Mark Pruitt, principal of the Illinois Energy Choice Aggregation Network and a consultant to the village on sustainable energy, conducted an analysis of the various options presented at the March meeting and recommended the village invest in marketing to make residents aware of tax rebates for smart thermostats and LED lighting for the home, in addition to LED lighting on village streetlights.

Pruitt told trustees that another possible proposal to install solar panels on village hall would not save the village money because the electric bill is zeroed out every month for the public building by the energy provider. The panels would not generate a lot of electricity either, he said, but it could be used for other village facilities that do generate electric costs.

Although the board generally voiced opposition to installing the solar array, Trustee Andrea Button said she wanted to revisit the option because it sends a message about the village’s commitment to environmental initiatives. 

“I don’t want to take that off the table just yet,” she said.

Trustee Deno Andrews advocated using a portion of the energy fund to provide grants to homeowners to make their buildings more energy efficient through installation of solar panels and other measures. He said residents have told him “they want to invest in solar and new windows but don’t have capital to do it.”

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb urged trustees to support establishing a large-scale solar project that likely would be in conjunction with a private solar company. The idea for such a project was originally proposed by resident Mac Robinet, who spearheaded the effort to create the energy aggregation fund in 2015.

A large-scale project would allow residents to purchase green energy directly from the project, which likely would be built somewhere outside the village.

“We need to study this in a way that impacts the next generation,” Abu-Taleb said. 

Trustees are expected to revisit the issue in August and make a final decision.


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