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Oak Park saves electricity consumers $1.6 million as Green Power Community

by Alan Yu
Oct 03, 2012


WIND

Kelly Gustafson/MEDILL

Oak Park buys more than 90 percent of its power from wind energy, saving electricity consumers in the town $1.6 million this year.

Oak Park residents, businesses and other users saved more than $1.6 million on their electricity bills so far this year and the village earned national status while trimming costs.

The Environmental Protection Agency named Oak Park a Green Power Community of the Year recently because the village draws more than 90 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources under a power plan that also lowers rates.

Oak Park led the community competition with the highest green power percentage of total electricity use, according to the EPA. Washington, D.C., is another winner of the Green Power Community Challenge, leading the country in total green power usage.

Oak Park's achieved the honor through municipal aggregation, a process where local governments negotiate power rates on behalf of residents and other consumers to get a lower rate than an individual can get.

Oak Park switched this year to Integrys Energy Services, an alternative supplier that offers wind power through the grid operated by Commonwealth Edison. The village is, in effect, reducing 131,705 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, the equivalent of removing 25,825 cars from the road, according to the EPA. As Integrys charges less than ComEd, village consumers have collectively saved $1.6 million since this January, said Kathryn “K.C.” Poulos, sustainability manager at Oak Park.

“We’ve just gone through a summer of intense heat, but we had some of the lowest electricity bills ever,” Poulos said. “Other communities have followed suit. Over 300 (in Illinois) did this year.”

The City of Chicago is putting municipal utility aggregation before voters in the general elections this November, but the process only works if residents are aware of the change, said Phil Nevels, co-founder of Power2Switch, a company that helps customers find the cheapest power rates.

Municipal aggregation is generally an opt-out process, so some residents may be switched to another supplier without knowing it. The city is required to hold at least two public meetings to inform residents.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to aren’t aware it’s happening,” Nevels said. “It works best if the government over-communicates the change.”

Some of the savings that Oak Park is seeing may be gone by next year, though, said David Kolata,  executive director of Citizens Utility Board, an organization created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1983 to represent utilities customers.

Communities that aggregate, such as Oak Park, are saving money because ComEd bought its power from its supplier Exelon years ago, Kolata explained. The contracts picked up prices that were reasonable at the time, and a surge in natural gas production also led to a decrease in power rates overall. When ComEd renegotiates the contracts next June, this easy pricing could disappear, but aggregating prices for a whole community should still mean cheaper rates than individuals get.

“This is just pure commodity competition,” Kolata said. “A town should invest in energy efficiency measures so you don’t use as much. They could also invest in localized sources of power for job creation, because just buying renewable energy credits is beneficial for renewables, but the benefits could be as far away as Texas or California.”