Participants began the day by meeting each other, creating images of what they think the future of energy looks like in Chicago, then posting these images on the wall and discussing them with others. Participants then split into three tracks for the day for rich, dynamic discussions about reducing, reinventing and transforming energy in Chicago.


  • Reduce
  • Reinvent
  • Transform
The Reduce Track morning session featured a panel discussion titled, “Models for Engaging Communities in Energy Efficiency,” centered on the CNT Energy program of Energy Impact Illinois. The panel featured different members of the program including community organizers and outreach staff. Morning panelists included:
Anna Markowski, CNT Energy Vito Greco, CNT Energy
Pamela Brookstein, CNT Energy Ben Handy, 89th & Ridgeland Block Club
The panel discussed how Energy Impact Illinois went from being one of the weakest energy efficiency national programs to one of the most successful over a three year period, resulting in the completion of over 3,000 retrofits in Chicago homes last year. The first year emphasized a huge marketing campaign; the second year focused on a Call to Action and using an online calculator. But it wasn’t until the third year that success came, based on a community strategy engaging homeowners in holding house parties and involving some 300 volunteers. As the panelists shared their three year learnings, the participants were able to see how the face-to-face strategies became the key to the remarkable reduction of community energy. The afternoon session had five “Ignite” presentations (igniting our imagination!) from organizational representatives who support individuals and communities in reducing energy use. Each five-minute presentation was followed by five minutes of participant dialogue. Afternoon presenters included:
  1. Coleen McGinnis, Delta Institute, describing two citywide competitions – the Chicago Green Office Challenge and the Chicago Neighborhood Energy Challenge – and how individual actions help make their offices and communities more energy efficient.
  2. Rajiv Ravulapati, Citizens Utility Board, outlining, an online energy-advisory tool dedicated to lowering energy use and rewarding actions to do it!
  3. Michelle Ackmann, ComEd, sharing the details of ComEd’s Smart Ideas for Your Home program, an energy efficiency program for residential customers.
  4. Emily Burns, Historic Chicago Bungalow Association, discussing the HCBA’s Energy Savers Program and how it’s partnerships with community organizations helped complete over 700 subsidized retrofits for seniors and other hard to reach groups.
  5. Jim Heffron and Zoe Bottger, Peoples Gas, discussing the various Peoples Gas energy efficiency programs and how direct community engagement helps improve energy savings citywide.
  Participants enjoyed learning about the game Delta Institute created for involving people in the Green Office Challenge. They were glad to hear that CUB now has 25,000 EnergySaver users. The big take away from the afternoon session was learning how the energy saving resources offered by such programs as ComEd, Peoples Gas and the Bungalow Association are all now accessed through one site – Retrofit Chicago – providing a one-stop shop for people seeking to reduce their energy use. Participants were grateful that the multiple resources they had heard about now are connected and easier to access than in the past.
The Reinvent track featured 5 “ignite” presentations in the morning from individuals and community-based organizations that have implemented renewable energy strategies in their homes and communities.  Each 5 minute presentation was followed by 5 minutes of dialogue with track participants.  Morning presenters included (see web site for more details):
  1. Tim Heppner purchased a house in a low income neighborhood in Chicago, and proceeded to transform it share the skills and experience he has gained with others.
  2. Susan Ask works in Ginko Gardens to re-invent the food system to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build community.
  3. William Pool uses waste vegetable oil and homemade equipment to make biodiesel fuel which he uses to power his own and other vehicles. More waste vegetable oil is needed!
  4. Ana Garcia Doyle has reinvented her 96 year old home to make it a demonstration of energy efficiency and renewable energy with a geothermal HVAC system.
  5. Mac Robinet shared the process he followed in planning for the installation of solar panels at his home including location, contractor selection, costs, rebates & monitoring.
The group was encouraged to see that renewable energy is actually feasible in the Chicagoland area and that real people are doing it.  There was a sense of urgency that emerged from the group about getting the word out about the potential that is there here and now. In the afternoon session of the Reinvent Track we had 4 “ignite” presentations from representatives larger organizations (public, private & non-profit sectors) that shared things that their organizations do to support the work we are doing in our communities
  1. Amy Kurt, Clean Line Energy, discussed the need to enhance the electrical grid in order to realize the potential for wind energy in Illinois and the support needed to do that.
  2. Kacie Peters, Renewable Energy Alternative, gave the group a quick “Solar 101” course on the basics of solar photovoltaic systems and what to expect when looking into it.
  3. Sarah Wochos, Env. Law & Policy Center, provided an overview of the Illinois policy landscape for solar energy:  net metering, interconnection and municipal aggregation.
  4. Michael Berkshire, Chicago Housing & Economic Development, introduced Solar Express which streamlines permitting, zoning & interconnection for solar projects.
The big take away from the afternoon session was the urgent need for policies and systems that will support the potential for developing renewable energy sources and the fact that we, as residents, homeowners and citizens can have significant influence on our elected leaders to implement them.   At the close of the Reinvent Track, we reflected on the fact that Illinois is significantly behind other countries (and even other US states) in the development of renewable energy.  One question that the group was left with was how do we develop the political will and local knowledge base to“scale it up!”
The morning session featured a panel discussion titled, “A Critical Look at the World of Fracking.” Earlier this year, the Illinois Senate rejected a proposal to impose a moratorium on fracking.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources published the first draft of Illinois' rules for high-volume oil and gas drilling for public comment on the same day these three panelists made their case with respect to fracking:
  1. Tom Wolf, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, made the case that fracking is socially and economically beneficial to communities;
  2. Sarah Wochos, Environmental Law and Policy Center, made the case for developing a robust regulatory framework to minimize potential negative impacts of fracking; and
  3. Dylan Amlin, IIRON Student Network, made the case that there is nothing in the past to suggest industry would proceed in a way that does not have damaging consequences and called for renewed efforts to catalyze politicians to impose a moratorium on fracking in Illinois.
Panelists discussed the robustness of the fracking regulations and acknowledged the unresolved questions about the longer-term impact of fracking, particularly on health, water quality/availability and underground eco-systems.  The session did not focus on finding solutions but rather aimed to create a safe space to address the major challenges with fracking head-on through informed, respectful dialogue and community participation. In the afternoon session of the Transform track had 4 “ignite” presentations by representatives from public & non-profit organizations that engage communities in sustainability initiatives. Each 5 minute presentation was followed by 5 minutes of questions from track participants. Presenters included:
  1. Gary Cuneen, Seven Generations Ahead, discussed the PlanIt Green Sustainability Report Card initiative in Oak Park and River Forest that measures the progress of community sustainability goals to leverage change.
  2. Emily Plagman, Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency, discussed the effectiveness of the “house party” model Energy Impact Illinois used to promote energy efficiency retrofit work in Chicago.
  3. Lynn Englum, World Wildlife Fund, busted common myths about using solar energy; it is not costly, complicated, unreliable or ugly; it will boost home resale value; and it is effectively used in much cloudier climates than ours.
  4. Henrietta Saunders, Faith In Place, discussed her work engaging her congregation in sustainability initiatives and the power of uniting in a common cause.
Track participants reported feeling excited about the diversity of ways to engage local communities in making more sustainable choices and felt empowered to connect with others to advocate for more sustainable approaches to sourcing and using energy. At the close of the Transform track, track participants reflected on connecting and partnering with others to promote sustainability in their communities and left with a renewed sense of hope for the future.

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