Electrification is a topic that has been bouncing around the village for the past year or so, sort of a hot potato.

The basic idea is that eliminating natural gas from our buildings will help decrease the release of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Replacing gas-fired heating plants with electric-powered units will be a means to that end. That means no more new gas-fired heating boilers or furnaces in our homes or offices.

But there are problems.

First, the electricity must come from somewhere. In Illinois, it comes from generators that are powered by coal, natural gas and nuclear power. Coal is a dirty fuel. It can and should be replaced. We’re years away from any new nuclear power plants so that leaves us with natural gas as a power provider.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. We can electrify our buildings with energy that comes from gas — the very product from which we’re trying to distance ourselves. Decrease our use at the site only to increase it at the source. The equation always balances.

Second, I have doubts about Commonwealth Edison’s ability to deliver the infrastructure necessary to make electrification possible.

Perhaps it is my experience on the park board during the coal-tar remediation of Barrie Park from 1999-2005 that saddle me with these doubts. The foot-dragging behavior of the utilities and their hapless vice president (at the time), Frank Clark, makes me question the ability of Com Ed to help make any easy transition to an all-electric village within reach.

Our time might be better spent tightening up our existing buildings. Adding insulation (properly vented) and weather stripping isn’t very glamorous but may offer better rewards.

Tim Kelly
Chair, Building Codes Advisory Commission
Village of Oak Park

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