Sounding down on brown energy

Packed village hall in opposition to fossil fuels option


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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The road to establishing the village's energy provider has been a bumpy one with the decision by the village board to switch from renewable energy as the default option to so-called brown energy derived from fossil fuels.

Religious leaders and residents have flooded village hall with emails, letters and petitions opposing the decision, and they turned out in force at a public meeting, Monday night, to voice their displeasure over the decision. 

Gary Cuneen, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, said that with the decision to switch to brown energy, the board has "relinquished Oak Park's role as a green energy leader."

Cuneen argued that comments made by board members concerning the effect the cost differential (between the green and brown power bids from an auction of energy providers) would have on low-income families could have been addressed without switching to fossil fuels. That differential was initially expected to be $5 per month per average household.

"Rather than pit low-income seniors against our children and future generations in your decision process, let's problem-solve," Cuneen said. "We have 1,972 low-income households in Oak Park that live below the federal poverty level. Two compact fluorescent lights in Oak Park for $10 would more than erase the per month extra cost for green energy and would have been an opportunity for energy saving tips in education, which would save money and circulate more dollars through our community."

Cuneen noted such a move would have cost under $20,000 and allowed Oak Park to remain green.

Under the new energy structure, residents are able to opt in to green energy, but the village's energy consultant says only about 10 percent of residents are likely to take the steps to make such a change. The village's new energy provider, Constellation, also will provide the green energy option. Since the green energy "opt-in" option was not part of the auction process, but instead negotiated by village staff, the green power option is now only about $1 a month higher for the average consumer.

"Thanks to negotiations the brown price is only slightly less than the green option, but its hidden costs are much greater than the current monthly gap of 91 cents or the previous gap of $4.50," said resident Anna Garcia Doyle at the Monday board meeting.

"Continuing to build fossil fuels into our daily habits whenever we switch on the light is not an option for a brighter future," she added.

Doyle noted that a petition circulated throughout the village has gathered nearly 500 signatures in support of green energy.

Religious leaders have also chimed in on the issue, with representatives of the Interfaith Green Network of Oak Park-River Forest, a network of 22 congregations that promotes environmental sustainability, sending a letter to village hall last week opposing the decision.

"We in the faith community refer the trustees to the Oak Park-River Forest Sustainability Plan — a plan in which we and all other segments of the community had a great deal of input — for some preferred solutions to our long-term viability and resilience," the letter states. "Those solutions include the increased use of clean energy sources, support for energy-efficiency programs and green transportation options."

Nick Bridge, chairman of the village's Environment and Energy Commission, a citizens advisory commission, said that although the village's previous energy aggregation program established the village as a leader in sustainability, the issue is more than a matter of prestige.

"The major value of contracting for green, or clean, power has been the demand for wind power," he said. "Because of the action you took last week, the only way now we can contribute to this demand is by most of us taking the trouble and time to sign up for the green option. Let's hope we can rally our friends and neighbors to support that green option."

Trustee Colette Lueck, the only board member to vote against the decision to adopt the brown energy plan, commended residents for writing village hall and showing up to make their voices heard. She urged them to spread the word about the option to choose the slightly more expensive green-energy option.

"We are counting on you to take the energy in this room that drove you here today and let every single person you know, know how to choose green," she said.

Board President Anan Abu-Taleb said the decision to choose brown energy would save an aggregate of more than $1 million, but he was jeered by residents who packed the village chamber when he said, "Judging the board by one decision I think is kind of unfair to us as a board. I know we work very hard."

He noted that village staff is going to work to get the word out about opting in to the green alternative.


Reader Comments

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Bill from Oak Park  

Posted: April 29th, 2014 4:38 PM

Can anyone tell me how Constellation is actually offsetting the brown power. Is is RECs. Is it some other program. Clearly the OP decision is not reducing production of green power, but what does the consumer get for their extra $$ beside some kind of green vanity credit?


Posted: April 26th, 2014 7:18 AM

Here is an article about natural gas and methane--had to check I wasn't misremembering something:


Posted: April 26th, 2014 7:12 AM

I agree Bridgett--lots to learn and many viewpoints; wish some on the other side we more respectful--easier to listen and keep an open mind when one is not being insulted/belittled. Marc, sounds like you are right; but the production of natural gas isn't so great and has huge external costs, and I read somewhere that the methane that gets leaked undercuts its clean-burning record. Nuclear also has its own baggage. We might have to rely on those things now, but we should keep moving forward.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2014 12:40 AM

Marc, you bring up good points. I've learned much in the last few weeks, such as: I didn't know there was debate regarding the purpose of us voting for aggregation in 2011 (lowest price vs greenest option), I didn't know that we, for two years, were not getting true green energy, I didn't know what RECs were. Americans are hard on this earth. Radical changes would have to occur to alter our course, and most are just not willing.

Marc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 11:29 PM

Green, I am opposed to all government subsidies and I would certainly eliminate all subsidies for fossil fuel production as well as ethanol and renewables. But my point was that the subsidy on the Integrys deal went into the rate payer's pocket. It did not go into the renewable industry. The industry got additional subsidies. There is no shortage of electricity demand, the issue is the cost of supply. Each generator should compete to produce at a competitive rate.

Marc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 11:15 PM

Bridget and Green Fairy, I am in favor of conservation. But if you agree with the UN and the current science on the imminent catastrophe of carbon emissions then there is no time to waste. The current technologies of nuclear (zero carbon) and natural gas (50% less than coal) provide the most immediate benefit and are fully available. Solar/wind cannot be built fast enough to have a meaningful impact. Nuclear waste/safety are major issues, but seem manageable till the renewables catch up.

Marc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 10:30 PM

Green, China produces nearly twice as much carbon emissions as the US and is still on a growth trend while the US is on the decline. My point is that we should not kid ourselves about where the energy is coming from, pay the rate required for the energy source we want, and keep the village government out of areas that it doesn't belong.


Posted: April 25th, 2014 9:56 AM

How are we supposed to take care of China and India? They are taking care of themselves as far as renewables and are probably ahead of us. I have no connection to green energy other than I have young children. I do not think going back to the dark ages is the answer either. I am not advocating for using candles and wood stoves. We need to move ahead and smart investment in green technology is the answer. What are you doing about the energy crisis and making a sustainable future for kids?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 8:42 AM

@ Green/Green Fairy: How much of your personal income is invested in wind and solar power? Wouldn't reduction of the carbon foot print be better reached if OP residents gave up their computers, cell phones and Ipads? Why don't we as a community invest,at risk, in providing green energy to a developing community?The OPers of the 60s/70s risked their lives and fortunes in OP.We now talk about small efforts and risk little.If this is a problem, why start here, and not in India or China?

Green fairy  

Posted: April 25th, 2014 6:39 AM

The idea, Marc, is that green power over time will supply more electricity. These things take time, as it took time for grids/technology to develop for brown energy. I'd argue that we should have been investing a long time ago in green energy. The problem is that no one gets to own wind and the sun like they do coal and oil or whatever radioactive element that gets used for nuclear.


Posted: April 25th, 2014 6:35 AM

Marc, I'm glad that the green energy field is getting subsidies; it's in all of our best interest. Brown energy gets subsidized because of all of its external costs, and I haven't looked up it, but I would imagine that brown energy is either/or has been subsidized by the tax payer. The effects of brown energy will be subsidized by future generations.


Posted: April 25th, 2014 6:30 AM

All of the opting out has to be done via a phone, so senior citizens could do it. No computer--only for those who want to find where to by RECs. I am also a little appalled at the ageism and classism I see--senior citizens can't manage a computer and people in the lower socio-economic bracket wouldn't want to pay for green energy. Not true as we saw at the meeting.

Mary Unbehauen Rodrigo from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 11:32 PM

To CB - Disagree that the default should be green power. The people most affected by this are the elderly, many of which are confused by the issue, are not computer literate or even own a computer. Their stake in this is primarily cost. The younger generations are much more able to really have a choice and act on it.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 2:17 PM

@Marc, you are correct that nuclear power is carbon free, and yes it does produce more power than wind and solar. The flip side is that cost of building and maintaining nuclear power plants, plus the labor, is extraordinary. Long-term storage of nuclear waste is expensive and dangerous. Dumping waste is bad for the environment, wildlife, and us. Having said that, conservation and (energy) efficiency may be a good focus to both save the planet and our wallets.

Marc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 1:27 PM

Why I should have to opt-out? Should the village be allowed to slam my long-distance provider? The 'savings' in the Integrys deal were due entirely to federal and state subsidies. Your rate was lower but taxpayers were footing the bill. The ComEd rate averaged 7.06 cents over the two year period and 6.06 cents over the last 12 months. I am betting that the average ComEd rate will remain below the Constellation rate, 7.47 or 7.9, and I am very happy with my real contribution to the planet.

Marc from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 1:14 PM

The 'green' power claims are fairy stories. Only 4.6% of electricity nationally and less than 3.6% in Illinois is from wind and solar. If every village that claimed to be buying 'green' energy was added up it would far outstrip the actual amount generated. If you are really concerned about reducing carbon emissions, then you should be using ComEd. ComEd generates 48% of its power in Illinois from nuclear, that is the real low-carbon electricity.

Leslie from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 11:49 AM

Just let all three branches of the OPPL know the correct number for the opt into green energy, 1-800-718-1943, I had called an OPPL branch last night and the kind librarian read the bad number to me printed in the WJ. Thank you to the Board who just updated the Village website 4/17/14 entry and added the 800 number. Glad the board reads their e-mails. What a comedy of errors! I just called to get opt all green energy. Teresa,my friend got e-mail from her block party contact & opted green!

Teresa Powell  

Posted: April 24th, 2014 10:04 AM

Thanks, Tim, for the updated directions for the green option! I did the call in about 3 minutes this morning.

Neal from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 11:03 PM

I agree that the green option should be the default when the majority of the people in Oak Park state their desires through, say, a petition. If 50% or more want green as a default that's fair. Right now about 500 have signed a petition, which is about 2/10 of a percent of the population, but it's a start. Another place to help the earth is to close the fireplace, and convert all your lights to led. If you'req truly committed, lower your house temp to 65 degrees like the Germans do.


Posted: April 23rd, 2014 7:15 PM

Set aside green/brown for a minute, and let's assume the whole impetus was to save money for Village residents. If we accept that as the goal, IT'S STILL A BAD DEAL. Seriously, go to and do some searching--there are at least a half-dozen plans that offer LOWER rates than the Village MAEP offering. And if you do some more searching on-line, you can find even more.

CB from OP  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 6:35 PM

If we're all about choice, how about next time have the default be "green" and let those who want marginally cheaper "brown" energy choose brown? If cost is a concern, the savings will motivate them to opt out of green.

Phil from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 5:29 PM

Just got off the phone from Constellation to switch to the green plan, and have the answer to our earlier questions. They said that the green plan is still part of the aggregation plan, just a different plan/rate. So we're still aggregated, and will automatically be rolled over to whatever company the Board chooses next year. So if your family choose to support the green option, and can afford the $10-30 per year additional cost, it's a great choice.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 5:28 PM

The village board made the correct decision by allowing choice to all citizens. If you want green energy, choose green energy. Since when did choice become a "brown" word?

Teresa Powell  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 8:59 AM

Information on p 10 of the WJ on how to opt for green is incorrect. ONLY a phone call to this number: 1-800-718-1493 (not the one in the paper) with your Com Ed account number and Constellation letter will allow the change. If you mail to Houston you will get Com Ed (brown?) energy.

Christi from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 8:49 AM

I posted on the other forum re: this matter. We opted for Constellation about two years ago will my contract renew under this new plan with the village or do I have to renew under the new plan ?

Phil from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 6:56 AM

We're planning to opt-in to the green option, which we estimate will cost us ~$10-20 per year. (Thanks to the Board for renegotiating the price!) An unanswered question I had, though: When we opt-in, will we remain on the village contract and automatically carry over next contract year? Or will our opting out pull us from the village contract, and we'll have to make the switch back "on" next year? Anyone know?

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