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Oak Park Officials Look to Electrify the 'Other Referendum'

Energy purchasing plan to appear on April 5 ballot.

Voters in Oak Park will get the chance on April 5 to support or shoot down a new program that offers the promise of savings on electricity bills. 

The plan is known as Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA. The programs allow a municipality to bundle power accounts from households and commercial customers, then, with the help of a third-party consultant, seek bids from energy companies. 

The idea is for Oak Park to select an energy provider that can offer the cheapest rates, the cleanest forms of energy, or a mix of both. 

Right now, ComEd customers receive power from Exelon at prices set each year by the Illinois Power Agency, which buys electricity on the market on behalf of utility customers. 

In Illinois, the majority of electricity, 58 percent, originates from nuclear power, according to ComEd figures. Coal-fired power plants supply 34 percent of the state's electricity and natural gas-fired plants produce 5 percent. Combined, alternative forms of energy like wind, biomass and hydro power, account for a scant 3 percent. 

If the referendum wins approval, Oak Park would the get the green light to seek energy plans from one of the state's 23 certified energy providers.

Then, the village would hold two public hearings designed to create a plan prioritizing what Oak Parkers want: cheap electricity or clean electricity.  

The bid from the provider who comes closest to the aggregation's plan would be accepted. If none of the bids match up with the plan's goal, officials say, there is no obligation to accept it — Exelon would continue to provide power at existing rates. 

The CCA plan also carries with it an option for residential and small commercial users to opt out if they don't want to participate. 

That option will manifest itself when all the bids are received and the proposed electricity rates and the winning provider are selected. 

Just one Illinois community, Fulton, has passed a referendum and is engaged in aggregation planning. On April 5, voters in Oak Park and three other communities — Oak Brook, Glenwood and Lincolnwood — will decide to give their elected officials the authority to start the CCA program. 

Elsewhere in the country, state legislatures in Ohio, Massachusetts, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have paved the way for CCA programs. 

Oak Park sustainability director K.C. Poulos said residents in some of those communities have opted for "light green" plans, which offer a carbon neutral mix of power sources and "deep green" plans, which depend exclusively on clean power sources.

The latter would likely come at a higher price, but Poulos and others say it could be a feather in Oak Park's cap. 

"I would argue this is a classic Oak Park endeavor," she said. "That we all do something together and not only saves money, but if we pass this and we do find a 100 percent green energy policy, you know who will be the first to brag about it." 

Other Sources

Aggregation Q & A on the official Village of Oak Park website
http://oak-park.us/aggregation/

TribLocal
Oak Park asks for right to buy electricity, March 11, 2011

Wednesday Journal
Oak Park to Voters: Do you want cheaper energy? Jan, 4 2011
Oak Park makes pitch for electricity choice March 1, 2011

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