GARFIELD PARK-Annette Britton was looking for a way to cut costs for her elderly mother’s two-flat building in the East Garfield Park community. But what she found was a way to cut her electricity bill by 30 percent.
Britton’s two-flat in the 3200 Block of West Washington Blvd. is the first residential building in Chicago to have a hybrid wind turbine and solar panel system.
The system is designed to generate power from the sun during the summer months and take advantage of winter’s blustery winds.
The dual system produces 400 kilowatts of power. What is not used gets transferred back to ComEd’s electrical grid and shows up as a credit on Britton’s electric bill.
“I have an old-fashioned meter, and it only spins one way, so … when I first plugged in my solar panel, I saw my meter turn backwards,” Britton said. “But I haven’t been able to see that every day.”
The system was installed in May, but Britton has yet to see the fruits of the system’s $30,000 price tag. However, she measures success in cutting future energy costs for a system that would have paid for itself in 5-7 years. To help defray the cost, Britton received federal and state rebates that reduced it by 60 percent.
“In worst-case scenario, I’m buying future energy at today’s prices,” she said. “I can’t imagine the cost of electricity … 10 years from now.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28) wants more city residents to follow in Britton’s footsteps. He wants to make it easier for residents to purchase energy-saving technology, such as solar panels or wind turbines, by using existing TIF (tax increment financing) dollars. A TIF is a special financing method used to subsidize community and economic development.
“I looked at what Mrs. Britton was doing, and I thought it was something that could be replicated in the community,” he said. “The goal of her investment is to be a net zero home [in terms of energy consumption]. She can generate as much energy as she is consuming.”
Ervin has not crafted any legislation to use TIF dollars to purchase energy-saving green technology, but he hopes to get a conversation started among homeowners to think outside of the box. Conserving energy is more than just turning off lights and unplugging appliances.
“I just received a light bill last month that was 200-something dollars for my house,” Ervin said. “So it clicks in my head that maybe I need to be doing something to reduce energy consumption because that is a lot of money for a household, and I am just one person.”
Right now, Ervin is fleshing out his proposal with the city’s Department of Environment and the Department of Housing and Economic Development, which oversees the city’s TIFs program.
The program, he contends, could work similar to the city’s SBIF (small business improvement fund program) but tweaked for a residential setting. The SBIF program provides rebates to businesses for specific improvements to their facilities, including installing green technology.
He noted there are no city programs that allow incentives for installing green technology at the residential level. But state and federal governments do provide funding. The program could be a combination reimbursement for expenses or matching city grants.
“We are trying to help residents save money in the long run and make our city greener,” Ervin said, adding that using TIF dollars to fund residential uses of green technology can spur job creation and economic development.
Ervin got involved in Britton’s efforts when she came to his office seeking information on zoning restrictions in erecting her wind turbine. He said he was thrilled to see someone exploring this type of technology in a residential setting.
Britton noted that her home is a test case for residential wind turbines. She noted most wind turbines are used in commercial settings and are hundreds of feet in the air. Britton’s is just 30 feet off the ground.
“Seeing how it performs in a residential area is kind of brand new. There was no data on it for me to know for sure,” Britton said.