Climate change is an issue that must be addressed at all levels of our governmental, economic, and social systems. At the local level in Oak Park, 70% of our emissions come from our buildings. As such, we must move to reduce emissions from those buildings as a key component of addressing climate change. Electrifying those buildings is a key component of reducing their impact.
Currently, only 10% of Illinois’ electricity comes from renewable sources, but the recent Clean Energy Jobs Act mandates that all of Illinois’ energy must come from fossil-fuel-free sources by 2045, only about 20 years away. As Illinois moves toward that goal over the next two decades, any buildings whose power comes solely from electricity will see their emissions trend toward 0.
There are two components to the electrification process:
First, the village must mandate that all new construction, both residential and commercial, be all-electric. Cities like Ithaca, New York and Menlo Park, California have already accomplished this goal. The Oak Park Village Board will be considering legislation making this commitment in the next several months. Developers and homeowners should support this requirement, as constructing a home with only electric infrastructure is less expensive than building for both electricity and gas, and studies have shown that more efficient electric heating systems will save homeowners money over the long term.
Second, the village must support existing buildings to move from gas to electricity. This is a thornier problem. It will require the replacement of lots of existing infrastructure, and there will be questions about who pays and when the equipment should be replaced. There are several possibilities for this process, all of which should be considered.
Initially, the village board could require that heat pumps be installed for building heating whenever gas furnaces or whole-building air conditioners are replaced. The cost of a heat pump is currently more than a gas furnace, but there are substantial tax credits and rebates available, and a heat pump replacing a building air conditioner can both heat and cool that building. The village board could require a similar replacement policy when residents replace gas stoves, requiring that they be replaced with electric induction stoves.
The village should also investigate partnerships with nonprofit and for-profit organizations, such as BlocPower, that could provide financing for residential and commercial buildings to make the switch from gas to electric. Some of these organizations finance new equipment themselves and the cost savings from lower energy costs are used to pay off the equipment over time.
Finally, the village should support neighbors to become examples of building electrification for one another. Neighbors learn from one another, and electrification can spread through the community as residents educate one another about its benefits.
We can address climate change locally by electrifying our buildings, but only if we get started now. Our village has a lot of building stock, and it is growing all the time. If we take up this effort without delay, we can take advantage of our state’s transition to fossil-fuel-free electricity and reduce our emissions for the benefit of all of us.
- Information on Clean Energy Jobs Act: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/illinois-shows-us-what-road-clean-energy-should-look
- Cost savings of electrification: https://www.nrdc.org/bio/valeria-rincon/new-report-finds-electric-homes-can-save-chicagoans-money
- Incentives and rebates for electric infrastructure: https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/electrification/rebates-for-home-energy-upgrades-are-coming-soon-heres-how-to-plan
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a volunteer with the Oak Park Climate Action Network (OP-CAN).