Oak Park village hall

Village President Vicki Scaman will honor the previous village board’s decision to implement recommendations, including the hiring of a full-time staff member, on climate change proposed by the ad hoc Oak Park Climate Action Planning Group. 

“There’s no way we can ever catch up on reducing greenhouse gases if we don’t start now and get serious about it,” said Scaman.

The recommendations went before the previous village board March 22 and, with some slight modifications suggested by village staff, were approved in a 6-0 vote. Trustee Dan Moroney, whose term has since ended, was not present at that meeting. 

“Sustainability and making sure that climate action plan gets written is going to be one of my top three priorities,” said Scaman.

The village’s sustainability fund will support the cost of carrying out the recommendations, the total cost of which is expected to be roughly $625,000. The money will be allocated for these purposes in the 2021 budget.

The ad hoc climate group comprises about 28 individuals and is separate from the Environment and Energy Commission (EEC), but some overlap exists. The EEC’s Laura Derks is a member of the group, as is former EEC commissioner Ravi Parakkat, who was sworn in as a village trustee on May 3. Trustee Susan Buchanan is involved with the group as well.

“It was unprecedented really that the previous village board took recommendations from a loosely affiliated group,” said Derks.

The approved recommendations involve the creation of a grant program targeted at low-income homeowners and renters to retrofit homes with energy-efficient systems. The ad hoc climate group originally suggested $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds go toward this purpose. However, the village board apportioned $200,000 based on the advice of village staff. Grants per household will amount to between $2,000 and $5,000 depending on square footage.

“We already have a very tiny program right now, and this would actually go toward a much bigger audience for people to retrofit their homes or multi-unit buildings,” said Derks. 

To incentivize people in Oak Park to install rooftop solar panels, the village board agreed to begin a rebate program worth $225,000. The village will provide a $1,000 rebate on solar installation to those who can show their residential or commercial building has shown a 15 percent reduction over one year in energy use. 

Village staff plans to return to the board table, now under the leadership of Scaman, with proposed details for both the rebate and grant program. 

The approved recommendations also include a dedicated public information campaign worth $35,000 that will run from July through September to market energy-efficiency audits and retrofit grants. The amount deviates slightly as the ad hoc climate group originally requested $75,000. 

“It’s a PR campaign to really advertise the energy-efficiency audits that are out there because a lot of people don’t take advantage of them,” said Derks.

Finally, the village will contract a consultant to identify the village’s greenhouse gas inventory and help develop a climate action plan. A dedicated full-time staff person will be hired to carry out the plan, as well as run the energy-efficiency programs and collect data among other responsibilities. The amount suggested by the climate group is $50,000 for the contracted consultant and $115,000 for the new staff member. 

Buchanan, who is two years into her four-year term, hopes to see the new board make a greater effort to follow through on sustainability efforts, not only agreeing to them but putting them into effect.

“The previous board had different priorities and were unwilling to hold village staff accountable to the sustainability of direction that they gave to the village staff,” said Buchanan.

This new board seems poised to do just that. Buchanan and Parakkat are not the only trustees who care about limiting the village’s carbon footprint. Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla has frequently advocated action on climate change during her time on the board. Trustee Chibuike Enyia, sworn in May 3, has installed systems in his home to make it more energy efficient, according to Derks. 

“We’ll actually have a new way of thinking for this new board and this new president,” said Derks.

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