River Forest officials learned at the Dec. 13 village board meeting that they are succeeding in their efforts to improve the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent since 2007.

The good news, delivered in a presentation by the River Forest Sustainability Commission, was tempered with the realization that more work lies ahead.

The presentation, called a GHG inventory, showed that natural gas and electricity use are creating the most greenhouse gas emissions in the village. Gasoline-powered passenger vehicle use and waste also contribute but at much lower rates.

Helping reduce the greenhouse gas emissions is the use of renewable energy credits through a program instituted in 2020. The village also is reducing its greenhouse gas waste emissions through its composting and recycling programs. The presence of trees is also on the plus side.

Commissioner Shannon Roberts, who gave the presentation, said River Forest is upholding its commitments to the Greenest Region Compact, Chicago Climate Charter and PlanItGreen, noting that the village has met PlanItGreen goals of reducing greenhouse gases to 30 percent below 2007 levels by 2020, increasing renewable energy procurement by 25 percent by 2020 and increasing community solar energy projects for institutions and residents.

River Forest “needs to continue its progress and not lose ground,” Roberts said, referring to the community solar program rolling out in January, the continued procurement of renewable energy credits, making clean-energy options available and understandable for residents and pursuing projects that reduce energy and greenhouse gases in facilities and infrastructure.

Addressing the two biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, Roberts indicated that natural gas use is expected to decline as more homes are electrified, replacing furnaces, hot-water heaters and stoves powered by natural gas with those powered by electricity.

“The natural gas sector is asking what they can do to change,” she said. “The gas industry realizes if they don’t change with the times, they might not exist in 20 years.” She noted that experts in that sector are investigating the use of hydrogen.

“The one lever we have is electricity,” Roberts said.

Utility companies are working toward increasing use of renewable energy, she said, but cautioned, “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Electrification of homes and the expected increase in electric vehicles could increase overall electricity use.

“It’s OK if electricity goes up,” Roberts said. “In fact, we should expect it to.”

Village President Cathy Adduci referenced comments about electric vehicles and the recently passed federal infrastructure bill made by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) at a recent Illinois Municipal League meeting she attended.

“A big portion of that really focuses on electric vehicle charging stations and automobile plants to really get them to build electric and hybrid cars,” she quoted Durbin as saying.

Her own prediction was that in seven to 10 years, “We’re going to see [electric vehicle charging] stations everywhere.”

Trustee Bob O’Connell took the electric vehicle issue to a local level.

“What are we doing as a village to make it easier for our residents who are buying [electric vehicles] to get charging stations in their garages?” he asked. “A lot of people want charging stations in their homes. What are we doing to make things easier for them?”

In response, Eric Simon, the Sustainability Commission chairman, referred to the recently passed Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act package.

He said the package includes funding for residential electric vehicle charging stations that will most likely come in the form of grants.

“You might pay $500 to put an EV charging station in your garage and get a $250 rebate,” he said.

Simon also referenced the SolSmart program, a national program to make it faster, easier and more affordable to go solar. River Forest is among 22 Chicago-area municipalities and counties participating in the program.

“The next levels of SolSmart are going to push us toward having reduced permit fees in the village as well as having a super-easy process to get a permit,” he said.

The presentation identified continued next steps that will support River Forest in climate action such as advancing the greenhouse gas inventory and achieving targets and leveraging the commission’s strategic plan as the robust foundation for a more formal climate action plan that includes not only action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also informs residents of risk and required action as well as mitigation strategies.

Beyond greenhouse gases, the presentation noted the importance of continuing to focus on reducing water and waste impacts.

“This is how we can start to make decisions about how we can decarbonize our community,” Roberts said. “Now that we know where we’re at, the [greenhouse gas] inventory should really be used as a decision-making tool.”

Adduci passed along a suggestion by Village Clerk Jonathan Keller to incorporate sustainability in the village’s planned development process.

She joined trustees Katie Brennan and Lisa Gillis in congratulating the commission members for their accomplishments and thanking them for their contributions.

“You’ve invigorated our thinking,” Adduci said. “This has been great. We’ve come a long way.”

Gillis noted that River Forest is “way ahead of other municipalities” according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Brennan referred to the commission as “unique” while asking, “What do you need from us?”

“You should use this in a lot of decision-making,” Roberts said in response. “We have to make sustainability a part of everything we do.

“We have to look past the dollars when we make decisions. The long-term value of things goes beyond cost.”

Commission member Susan Charrette was more direct, asking for better funding.

“There’s only so much a commission can do on a $5,000 budget,” she said, citing marketing as a specific area of need.

Join the discussion on social media!