Climate change is in the air. The COP26 conference is calling the world together to address climate. In the U.S., President Biden is proposing $550 billion to fight climate change. The state of Illinois has passed a far-reaching climate bill. With a new village board, Oak Park needs to move aggressively.
Our new Climate Action Plan should include an ordinance requiring all new buildings to be fully electric. This means using only electricity for space heating, cooling, water heating, clothes drying, and cooking. A fully electrified building uses no natural gas.
This would immediately address the biggest source of greenhouse gases in Oak Park. It would bring direct emissions from new buildings to zero — a healthy step toward reducing all emissions by 50% by 2030, as called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Electrification is very practical and cost-effective. One heat pump system can replace both furnace and AC, more simply and efficiently. The Park District of Oak Park’s new Recreation Center will be all-electric. New York, San Francisco and other cities are already moving to ban natural gas in new buildings. In addition to the climate benefits, electrification means better indoor air quality and simpler maintenance.
Oak Park is in a building construction boom. The large apartment buildings built during the last few years all heat with natural gas, which locks in carbon emissions for the 50 to 100+ years building lifetime. (At some point, they may be forced into expensive retrofits to reduce emissions.)
There is no logical reason for new buildings to include onsite use of fossil fuels. A comprehensive Climate Action Plan will address this issue but it may come too late. Buildings planned for the Madison Street corridor may have much of their design completed. An electrification ordinance published in a year — or even a few months—may be too late.
But it is not too late to try. An electrification ordinance should be published as soon as possible. And village officials should seek opportunities to urge electrification on developers even before an ordinance is in effect.
Doug Burke, Mac Robinet, Senior Climate Action