Winnetka, News

Winnetka trustees loosen restrictions on renewable-energy usage and approve 16 outdoor-dining permits

Winnetka residents may be able to install expanded renewable energy sources — up to 25 kilowatts — if an ordinance introduced at the board of trustees is powered up.

The Village Council met for a regular session on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to discuss changes to the village code regarding renewable energy sources and how credits are calculated for such sources.

According to a village memo, the village code contains provisions for the interconnection of renewable energy sources and the village’s electric distribution system. The provisions allow customers with qualifying renewable energy sources to receive credits for excess energy delivered to the system. 

Aside from a 2019 amendment that provided a method to calculate the credits, the code has remained unchanged since its introduction in 2008, according to village documents.

“The changes are going to expand customers’ opportunities to install renewable energy (sources) provided it meets their (historical) consumption, address administrative issues and ensure adherence with state legislation,” said Brian Keys, the village’s director of water and electric, at the meeting.

In addition to the increased kilowatt capacity, the proposed changes specify the Village Council has jurisdiction in setting and changing the credit rate, building the protocol of remaining and backlogged credit from terminated accounts, and incorporating language for mixed use locations.

“The village won’t do any pro-rata splitting of credits on multiple accounts on a mixed use building,” Keys said, clarifying that such locations must be linked to an individual account. 

The proposal also seeks to eliminate a provision requiring customers to provide proof that general liability insurance does not “exclude liability and losses related to the customer’s operation of the renewable energy source,” according to the documents.

Keys told trustees the provision was “a nightmare to administer,” given that homeowner’s insurance could be canceled the moment an application was approved and it was a problem unique to Winnetka.

Prompted by Trustee Rob Apatoff, Keys said 10 residential homes are currently using bi-directional metering, three to four are going through the application process, and one to two have expressed interest in installation. Additionally, New Trier High School has a small renewable-energy system not reliant on bi-directional metering.

Following other questions from trustees, the motion to introduce both measures carried unanimously.

Outdoor seating approval sparks debate

Trustee John Swierk requested prior to the meeting that two motions be removed from the consent agenda for a separate vote.

The items pertained to the approval of outdoor seating agreements for Tocco and Good Grapes, both on Chestnut Street south of Elm Street. Swierk said there should be a payment made for businesses that are “sometimes more than doubling the size of their restaurants and not paying rent.” 

“It’s not competitive to other people who are paying rent for their restaurant spaces,” he said.

Apatoff said he thought the council had decided on capacity restraints for restaurants to be 50 to 100 percent, not “200 to 300 percent.” In their applications, Tocco requested outdoor seating for 16 (8 tables), and Good Grapes for 40 (10 tables).

Trustee Tina Dalman weighed in that to her knowledge, a permit for outdoor dining had never been denied. 

“If people have concerns, I think we talked about having someone from the village reach out and see what we could do to accommodate,” she said.

After some back and forth, Village President Chris Rintz said the “vibrancy of outdoor dining” is “beginning to define” the community and is something the board is “willing to continue to support. 

Both motions were carried, with Swierk the lone dissenter in both votes.

The council also approved an ordinance consisting of outdoor-dining permits at 14 other Winnetka locations, including Hometown Coffee & Juice (seating for 68), Spirit Elephant (10) and Towne and Oak (28). Tocco and Good Grapes permit included requests to shut down portions of Chestnut Court during the evening hours.

The next Village Council regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 7.

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Cailey Gleeson

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