By Beverly George
On September 15, 2019, ACE, in collaboration with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) and the League of Women Voters-Naperville, presented a panel discussion on “Renewable Energy: Developing a Plan Now for the Future.” Guest panelists included Vera Miller of the Downers Grove Clean Energy Task Force and the DuPage Clean Energy Coalition; Jim Truesdale from Clean Wheaton; Greg Hubert, member of the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force (NEST), LWV-Naperville, and CCL: Daniel Hebreard, president of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District; and Dr. George Crabtree, director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Laboratory.
Panelists Miller, Truesdale, and Hubert discussed what their communities were doing to incentivize or encourage renewable energy in their cities. Miller also explained the goals of the DuPage Clean Energy Coalition, which was created in March 2018 to be a clearinghouse of resources, experts, best practices, and other information to facilitate a move forward to clean, renewable energy.
Truesdale shared that Wheaton has made it easy for homeowners and businesses to get solar panel installation permits. The suburb also has other green initiatives, such as once-a-month electronic recycling, scrap metal recycling, replacing streetlights with LED lights, downsizing city vehicles, and moving from gasoline to diesel vehicles. The Wheaton Park District also has installed some solar energy on site. While the community is also designing bike paths, it has no public electronic vehicle (EV) charging stations yet.
Hubert discussed Naperville Electric, a municipal electric company that began as part of a coop back in 1899 for its 350 customers. Today, the company delivers reliable electricity to 60,000 customers at a reasonable rate. However, the source is a coal-fired power plant in southern Illinois. Naperville has been bound to that source through a contract with the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency since 2011that will not expire until 2035, although 25% of the coal source will run out in 2026. NEST wants to see that one-fourth of the coal source be replaced with wind and/or solar energy. A switch this large to renewables would require a Power Purchase Agreement presently not allowed by the contract. For now, Naperville is limited by the contract to a scant 2% of its energy to be derived from renewables.
How more renewable energy will be added to Naperville’s mix remains to be seen, but Naperville residents present at the program were encouraged to write their state representatives and senators to urge them to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which forces all electric companies, whether they’re Com Ed, municipalities, or coops, to reveal all of the energy sources of the electricity they deliver to their customers. This level of transparency would be beneficial to Naperville consumers if they want to push Naperville Electric toward more renewables.
Hebreard shared good news on the state of the forest preserves in DuPage County. There are 25,000 acres of forest preserve in DuPage, which is about one-eighth of all the county land. The forest preserves have a healthy ecosystem through biodiversity. Danada has a $300,000 solar energy installation providing the lighting system in the parking lot and at the street entrances. Hebreard said DuPage County is the first in the country to offer solar- powered golf carts and a solar cart storage barn. He wants to see a continued move toward more solar installations.
Crabtree broadened the discussion to changes we can expect in the future electric grid. Presently, there are many grid experiments going on across the country, and no single model of a new grid plan has emerged–yet. This will change as more EVs take to the road and the public wants to leave fossil fuel behind in the history books. In the meantime, new models are being tested on college campuses or other similar sites.
Public transportation systems will see big changes, too. In Chicago, electric buses will replace diesel buses, and for that, electric-charging bus barns will have to be built. An EV charging station for cars or bigger vehicles that uses fossil fuel to produce the electric charge does the environment no green favors. However, an installation of solar panels makes sense for that purpose.
Batteries are the most expensive part of the renewable energy equation, Crabtree told ACE members, yet they are needed to fill the energy gap when the winds are calm or the sun has set. Smart computer programs and energy storage plants will also help renewables in the not-too-distant future.
ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.