Dozens Turn Out for Clean Energy Rally in Naperville

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A rally staged Tuesday at the Free Speech Pavilion along the Naperville Riverwalk motivated dozens to turn out in support of clean energy, hoping to effect change.

Organizers decided to put on the event with one of its goals being to hold city officials accountable for the role that Naperville plays in contributing to climate change.

The rally featured remarks from a number of speakers, including Paul Bloom, associate professor for North Central College; Dale Bryson, former director of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Division for Region 5; and Rob Sargis, associate professor for University of Chicago.

Support for Clean Energy

Community activist Greg Hubert urged the crowd to recognize that municipalities, like Naperville, have more power in their relationship with the Illinois Municipal Energy Agency (IMEA) than may be realized. He said something has to give.

“Don’t be bamboozled by Naperville’s words that ‘the previous administration signed the contract with IMEA, the Illinois Municipal Energy Agency, so now there’s nothing more we can do until the contract ends in 2036,’” Hubert told the crowd.

Some from the group took to the Naperville Municipal Center afterward to make their views known at the city council meeting during the public comment section.

John Laesch of Green New Deal Working Group was among those urging the city to be a leader on this issue.

“I’m here tonight to ask the city of Naperville to do the right thing and to be the first of the IMEA municipalities to become leaders in the fight to save humanity from the looming climate crisis,” Laesch told the council.

He asked the city to do two things differently: adopt a climate plan with a path toward 100% renewable energy by 2030 and write a letter to state lawmakers requesting an energy offset/financial assistance.

Global Issue Localized

Naperville has already taken some steps to prioritize issues of the environment and sustainability. Most recently, the city hosted a sustainability workshop in August to further solidify its relationship with the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force (NEST). The city at that time committed itself to reducing emissions by 60% from what they were in 2012 by 2036, among other initiatives.

Mayor Steve Chirico touted the city’s efforts to seek practical solutions, saying these initiatives are a step in the right direction. He also stressed the importance of the city leveraging its relationship with the Prairie State coal plant.

Chirico maintains that working with the Prairie State coal plant makes sense for the city and that it shouldn’t deter change from being realized.

“That doesn’t mean that we do nothing,” Chirico said. “We continue to work with them. I think they have been good partners and listened and invested continually. Every new investment in electrons reductions over the last several years has been renewable.”

Councilman Patrick Kelly acknowledged there’s no easy fix to environmental concerns and said one of his takeaways from the sustainability workshop the city hosted in partnership with NEST is that action is urgently needed.

“I also left that workshop frustrated because we didn’t leave with a whole lot of tangible action items in my opinion,” Kelly said.

Why Now?

Supporters of clean energy argue that action is needed sooner rather than later to reverse some of the human impacts to the environment that contribute to climate change.

Mark Winters, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ—Naperville, said enough is enough.

“Don’t focus on what you can’t do because of contracts,” Winters told the council. “Focus on what you can do in spite of those contracts.”

Councilman Ian Holzhauer commended those who came to the city council meeting speaking out in support of clean energy.

“It’s our job as elected officials to listen,” Holzhauer said. “For the folks who are in this room or watching on TV, hold us accountable. Demand that we meet our 2036 goals. Demand specific plans for our city’s transition off of carbon-emitting energy. If that doesn’t work, demand it at the ballot box.”

Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.

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