for article 2SGA and the Fox Valley Sustainability Network hosted a Solar and Renewable Energy Forum at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora on Jan. 18. Among the topics that various speakers covered were financing options for community solar projects in Illinois, the different kinds of solar projects on the horizon, the Future Energy Jobs Act and municipal aggregation opportunities.

The second half of the forum featured a solar developer and institution match-making session, during which attendees had a chance to mingle with solar developers, companies and organizations to learn more about what they do and how they might work together on upcoming and future solar and renewable energy projects.

for article 3Mark Wilkerson, an account manager for Solaria, said he was looking specifically for 12-acre parcels of land on which to develop 2MW community solar arrays. “We have the people that can do the offtake. We take care of all the details. We just turn unused land into an income source for cities, for schools, for anybody that’s got unused farmland or farmland with not very good soil. We can turn that into an income source.”

Ellen Von Ohlen, of the Environmentally Conscious Oswego Committee, found the forum beneficial because for article 1speakers explained ways for how she could approach her community about solar. She especially appreciated the advice of Mark Pruitt, principal, Illinois Community Choice Aggregation Network: “Do the math.”

About 130 people registered for the forum, held at Waubonsee Community College Downtown Aurora Campus.

Speakers were Abby Beck, commissioner, Batavia Environmental Commission; Gary Cuneen, founder and executive director, Seven Generations Ahead; Mark Burger, solar consultant, Seven Generations Ahead; Mark Pruitt, principal, Illinois Community Choice Aggregation Network; Mark VanKerkhoff, director, Kane County Development & Community Services Department, and MeLena Hessel, policy advocate, Environmental Law & Policy Center.

PlanItGreen holds regular Lunch and Learn sessions that provide institutional and community leaders with expert information and facts on various sustainability topics. The March 7 Lunch and Learn focused on the PlanItGreen Solar in Your Community (SIYC) Challenge led by members of the SIYC effort in Oak Park and River Forest.  


IMG 4822As PlanItGreen continues to help ensure a more sustainable community, it is working to educate community members on various aspects of solar energy. The March 7 lunch gave the 17 community members who attended an overview of PIG’s solar projects and initiatives.

Seven Generations Ahead executive director Gary Cuneen led the presentation, describing the goal of the Solar in Your Community Challenge as “bringing solar to low to moderate income households, nonprofits and local governments.”

PlanItGreen is catalyzing new projects and connecting institutions to larger community solar projects developing in Illinois, Cuneen said.

Joining Cuneen were other PIG members,  who provided information and updates on solar in the OPRF community.  SGA’s Community solar consultant Mark Burger, who has been working with PIG for about two years now, presented information on Solar Power Purchase Agreements and building community solar through municipal aggregation. Burger has been collecting energy usage data from local institutions and assessing the rooftop solar capacity in Oak Park and River Forest.

IMG 4825Chris Lindgren of the Park District of Oak Park (PDOP) provided details on current solar projects within the district. Recently, 10 more solar panels were purchased for the Longfellow Center, he said. In addition, the PDOP is currently working on getting funding for future solar projects to bring more solar resources into the community. 

Mindy Agnew, the Village of Oak Park’s Sustainability Coordinator, announced Oak Park is in the final stages of being nationally recognized as a designated SolSmart City. “The designation recognizes local governments for spurring solar market growth,” according to the SolSmart website. If Oak Park achieves this designation, it will join the ranks of 150 other municipalities nationwide. “We have made a leap in the right direction and all of the work we’ve done until this point has paid off,” Agnew said.

Read more about PlanItGreen community solar initiatives on SGA’s website.


--Abigail Prendiville

resil5The Resilient Communities Forum on Jan. 31 at the 19th Century Club drew 175 residents from Oak Park and River Forest. They heard from municipal and environmental leaders on ways nations and communities are addressing the challenges of climate change.

PlanItGreen helped organize the event, which featured a presentation by SGA executive director Gary Cuneen on PIG’s priorities for the year.

resil4Cathy Yen, executive director of the OPRF Chamber of Commerce, emceed the program that included Village of River Forest President Catherine Adduci and Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who both participated in the North American Mayors’ Climate Summit in December. They shared their takeaways from the conference and its meaning for local communities.

Oak Park resident Jason Funk, who attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, was the evening’s first speaker.

resilpicHe offered a hopeful message from his experiences at the conference. “From the village to the federal level, things are still happening [on the environmental front], so don’t be too discouraged by whatever news stories or tweets you might come across,” said Funk, associate Director of Land Use at the Center for Carbon Removal. “Things are still going forward.  We’re getting up every day to do this work.”

Aducci spoke on River Forest’s sustainability priorities. The village “is centering its environmental efforts toward to two important initiatives, both of which trustees and I have approved: the PlanItGreen Sustainability Plan and the Greenest Region Compact, sponsored by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.”

In brief remarks, Abu-Taleb focused on Oak Park’s energy future. “With the benefit of Oak Park’s growing energy aggregation fund, we can and should explore and develop a sizable solar project, one that could generate up to 15 percent of residential energy needs,” he said.resil2

For the last seven years, both villages have participated in the PlanItGreen sustainability plan, which lays out goals in multiple areas. As the core team lead on the plan, Cuneen reviewed its 2018 priorities.

The team will continue to work with large institutions to get food scrap diversion systems up and running, he said, noting that “residential diversion rates still haven’t met PlanItGreen’s 50 percent diversion rate.” This year, PlanItGreen wants “community leaders to look at strategies that will help reach that goal,” he said.

The plan’s team is also working to get major institutions to voluntarily benchmark their energy use. PlanItGreen, Cuneen said, will “look at baseline data to set energy reduction goals and then connect institutions to organizations like Elevate Energy and some utility-based programs that are doing energy audits that are making recommendations for energy efficiency upgrades.”

PlanItGreen is the only two-community sustainability plan in the State of Illinois.

A resource fair to connect attendees to local climate action options followed the presentation. Representatives from Deep Roots Project, One Earth Film Festival, Openlands TreeKeepers, Sugar Beet Food Co-op, West Cook Wild Ones, River Forest Sustainability Commission and other groups answered questions and provided print materials and volunteer signup opportunities.

Caroline Marinoff, a member of Mann Elementary School’s Green Team, and Denise Frank, D97 parent representative for PlanItGreen, talked about school zero waste programs at their table.

They distributed information on how to pack zero waste lunches, encouraging both parents of school-age kids and adults to commit to packing just one zero waste lunch a month. The pair also provided information on D97’s Washington Irving school’s successful Zero Waste initiative and contact information for Susan Casey, SGA’s Zero Waste Schools Program Manager, to schedule a school waste audit.

“We provided information on the cost-saving and environmental benefits of reducing waste in packed lunches,” Frank said. “Finally, we secured volunteers to oversee the lunch-sorting stations at the various schools, which will ensure our continued success.” 

In addition to PlanItGreen, Green Community Connections, the River Forest Sustainability Commission and the Oak Park Environment and Energy Commission with support from CommunityWorks were organizers of the forum.  Other supporting groups included Interfaith Green Network, West Cook Wild Ones, Representatives of D97 Green Teams and Green4Good. 

—Cassandra West

PlanItGreen convened its annual Institutional Leaders Forum on Dec. 5 to highlight efforts by organizations that promote sustainability and help put the brakes on climate-related impacts.

And while it is customary for River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci and Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb to attend the forum, they were in the city preparing to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, the first-of-its-kind international pact on climate change.

In their absence, Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park village manager, and Eric Palm, River Forest village administrator, reported on steps taken in 2017 toward community resilience and reducing the villages’ carbon footprints.

PIG Forum 1Pavlicek highlighted the Oak Park board’s approval earlier this year of the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge and the adoption of a non-binding resolution that calls on the Illinois General Assembly to amend the Pesticide Act. In November, Oak Park hired resident Marynda "Mindy" Agnew as the new environmental sustainability manager.

Palm pointed to River Forest trustees elevating the village’s two-year-old Sustainability Committee to a full-fledged part of village governance, making it a commission. One of its first tasks was crafting an ordinance to regulate residential beekeeping, which trustees approved in late November.

Amid these developments, PlanItGreen is staking a path to energy sustainability. That path leads straight to the sun, which is returned to Earth as solar energy.

Gary Cuneen, who is guiding PlanItGreen’s solar initiative, emphasized the importance of taking local action in the face of federal rollbacks on pro-environment regulations.  “We’re going to create our own destiny,” he said, in describing the focus on community solar. 

Over the last 24 months, a Renewable Energy/Community Solar Task Force has been laying the groundwork for a utility-scale solar array and exploring municipal aggregation that would meet PlanItGreen’s renewable energy procurement goal of 25 percent by 2020, Cuneen said. PlanItGreen is also seeking entities in both villages that would take on 25-100 kilowatt rooftop projects.

The forum also provided an overview of the third Oak Park River Forest Community Sustainability Report Card, released earlier this year. It provides snapshots of progress against sustainability goals in nine topic areas by reporting “success stories” and highlighting areas where gaps exist.

PIG Forum Adrian Fisher 1

In general, there has been a slight retreat on meeting the plan’s energy goals, while both villages continue to decrease potable water use, Cuneen said. Other positive developments are the expansion of zero waste schools and the Sugar Beet Food Co-op being chosen as the best small business in the U.S. in a contest run by an organization that promotes sustainability and recycling for businesses.

As at previous forums, speakers representing various groups and organizations took brief turns coming on stage to share their one-minute success snapshots.

Some highlights:

  • In River Forest, 4,000 people were reached through the Sorted Out Station used at the LemonAid charity stand.
  • The Park District of Oak Park spotlighted is saving the village $68,000 a year through water repurposing at multiple sites.
  • Housing Forward made the switch from Styrofoam to compostable products.
  • At Triton College, the culinary arts program is recycling cooking oil and reducing waste reduction through its composting program.
  • The District House condo development on the corner of Lake Street and Euclid Avenue in Oak Park is seeking LEED silver designation.
  • Effective Jan. 1, 2018, Oak Park’s new single-use bag ordinance goes into effect.
  • West Cook Wild Ones reports monarchs are on the rise and the wildlife corridor it launched now has 300 participating gardens in the two villages.

At the invitation of the Institute For Sustainable Communities, PlanItGreen team members who are involved in energy issues attended a "Turning Energy Data Into Action" workshop at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo.

The April 3-4 workshop was part of the Solar In Your Community initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Program. People from more NREL groupthan a dozen agencies across the U.S., including colleagues at the Cook County Department of Environment and Sustainability (formerly Environmental Control), attended.

“Building from and upon the work of PlanItGreen, we learned about resources, strategy, and how other communities have/are addressed/ing renewable energy use – with specific focus on solar energy,” said Kristin Carlson Vogen, President and CEO of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, who was part of the PlanItGreen team. “We had two one-on-one conversations with NREL consultants, which helped us build the vision for Oak Park and River Forest.”

In addition to Vogen, other PlanItGreen team members were SGA executive director Gary Cuneen, Village of Oak Park director of Public Works John Wielebnicki, and PlanItGreen solar energy consultant Mark Burger.

NRELThe presenters at the workshop “were some of the leading researchers at NREL involved in how to gather, assess and use energy data,” Burger said. “While the PlanItGreen group has been quite good at gathering data for its biannual report card, the workshop exposed them to a new dimension of sources to enhance their findings. They also did exercises on how to incorporate the data in planning and presentations to the public.”

Started in 1977, NREL is the nation’s primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.

Wielebnicki said the NREL could be a valuable resource for the Village of Oak Park as it evaluates a plan for incorporating renewable energy into the community.

The PlanItGreen team capped off the workshop with a tour of the impressive facilities at Golden and a viewing of a state-of-the-art three-dimensional real-time planning and status operation of the energy generating, using and related functions of NREL.