The Village of Oak Park is moving toward electrification for both existing buildings and future developments to reduce the village’s greenhouse gas emissions. Transitioning away from natural gas usage is part of the village’s climate change mitigation effort and will help to satisfy the village board’s sustainability goals. Plans for these changes were laid out for the village board during a Jan. 23 meeting.

Commercial and residential buildings provide the greatest opportunity for the village to decrease its carbon footprint as they are the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the Oak Park community. A village study found that commercial and residential buildings made up 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, while transportation, mostly gas-powered automobiles, accounted for just 29%.

The village has committed to decreasing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 and to reach net-zero community greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Addressing building emissions will involve the adoption and adaption of new and old energy policies, respectively, requiring the cooperation of the village’s building and sustainability departments.

At the village board’s Jan. 23 meeting, Oak Park Sustainability Coordinator Marcella Bondie Keenan presented the five foundations of zero-carbon buildings policies: energy efficiency, renewable energy use, grid integration and storage, life cycle impacts and electrification. Electrification involves the removal of natural gas units in existing buildings to make electricity their sole energy source.

Village staff are in the process of developing an electrification benchmark ordinance to measure and improve building performance. The ordinance would apply to buildings over 10,000 square feet in size and would require the collection of whole-building energy and water use data to be disclosed to the village annually, beginning in 2024. Staff are collaborating with the village’s Energy and Environment Commission and Building Code Advisory Commission, as well as local landlords and the Oak Park Business Association Council, according to Bondie Keenan. Once the benchmarking ordinance is enacted and building data collected, the village will begin developing building performance standards.

For future developments and restoration projects, village staff is working on a new construction and renovation policy, which would in part require all-electric construction and enhanced energy efficiency. The policy would also require on-site charging stations for electric vehicles and solar readiness. involve greater community engagement and education. The policy will also include resources for implementation and compliance plans. Still in the development stage, staff will solicit input from the community and develop educational materials.

The village board will ultimately vote on both regulatory measures, so local landlords need not toss those gas stoves just yet. Nor will tenants have to worry about shifting from gas-powered heating in the very near future.

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