You may have seen them on your neighbor's roof, in your high school science textbook or driving through the farmlands of Central Illinois.
They vary in shape, cost and, most significantly, output.
They're alternative energy sources: solar, geothermal and wind. And if, in the coming months, the village of Deerfield adopts its new alternative energy ordinance, they could have more presence in town than ever before.
“We've been working on this for quite a while now,” said Kathy LeVeque, associate planner for the village, who's focused on the now 16-page ordinance since 2009, “so it's exciting to see it come to fruition.”
For more than three years, Deerfield has partnered with other surrounding municipalities and Lake County officials, who helped draft a model ordinance for alternative energy uses.
In that time, the village, also, formed their Sustainability Commission and used the model as an outline for the alternative energy ordinance. Tuesday board members unanimously adopted Tuesday updated amendments.
“We've really redoubled our efforts,” Trustee Mary Oppenheim said. She, along with other trustees, has witnessed the beginnings of a sea change in the village's environmental practices. “I think this is a push that's happened over the last few years,” she added.
If passed, the alternative energy ordinance will allow residents and commercial space owners to install building-mounted and freestanding wind turbines with non-reflective surfaces and neutral colors, according to LeVeque.
Moreover, freestanding wind turbines may be up to 45 feet tall (nearly the height of Crown Fountain in Downtown Chicago). For approval, property owners must attend a public hearing.
However, when applying for a building-mounted wind turbine, property owners need only apply for a special-use permit.
As for any loud swishing, noise regulations for wind turbines state the machinery cannot be louder than 50 decibels or the sound of a normal conversation 15 feet away, according to LeVeque.
“We're seeing more of these requests and more interest from the community,” LeVeque said. “We've tried to make improvements to be more green and show the village residents and businesses that we're committed to that.”
As for less familiar alternative energy sources, such as geothermal: “If someone were to install a geothermal system, neighbors probably won't see anything, because it's mostly underground," LeVeque said.
Unlike other sources, geothermal gathers energy from liquid flowing through pipes in the earth, which maintains a relatively constant temperature year round.
“In the summer the temperature is cooler than the [surface] conditions, and in the winter, it's warmer,” LeVeque said. “You're taking that energy from the earth to heat or cool your home depending on the season."
In addition, the ordinance states property owners' geothermal systems cannot impede on neighboring properties or right of ways.
Regulations for solar panels are not too complicated, either. They cannot extend more than four feet from the exterior of a building; and if placed on the front elevation of a building, they must blend in.
“This gives us perimeters,” LeVeque said of the proposed ordinance. “If somebody wants to come in and install a wind turbine then we can say, 'Okay, it needs to meet these requirements.'”
As of today there are three geothermal and about four solar panels systems in Deerfield. And the proposed ordinance and lack of opposition during Tuesday night's meeting is a clear sign many in the village want more alternative energy sources.
For ComEd customers, who've had a rather unpredictable year, using other sources is a great way to save money.
“If your alternative energy source is producing more energy than you're using at a given moment,” LeVeque said. “You can send it back to through the grid to ComEd, and they'll give you credit for that to help you reduce your electricity bill.”
Though pricy, alternative energy sources have been heralded as wise, long-term investments, but their success depends on how much people are willing to spend.
“It really depends on what type of system (people) install...what models they buy and where they're situated on their property,” LeVeque said of green sources. “It really does vary. There's not a single magic number I can give.”
For Oppenheim, a greener Deerfield is more of an ideal at this point than a reality. But she'll continue pursuing the latter.
“I'd love it if we could use as much as we can,” Oppenheim said. “I don't know, realistically, how much we can produce.”
In Other News
Authorization of a zoning ordinance for Starland Creativity Center, which is looking at a location on 445 Pine Street, will receive a final reading during the village board's first February meeting.