Illinois Getting One Step Closer To 'Community Solar'

Apr 10, 2019

Credit Peter Medlin

Illinois consumers are getting closer to having solar as part of their energy choices – without having to build their own array.

Companies seeking to sell solar generated electricity to the public in the state find out Wednesday, April 10 if they’ll be able to proceed this year. The Illinois Power Agency holds a lottery Wednesday afternoon to select which proposals will be eligible for the renewable energy credits needed to make them viable.  

Energy companies from around the country spent the last year lining up leases, doing studies and gaining zoning approvals across the state for what are being called ‘solar gardens.’ Most staked out multiple sites in hopes that at least one would be picked.  

Illinois Power Agency Director Anthony Star said there are other solar projects, large and small, that are advancing. But this is definitely an important piece of the puzzle.

"We’re going to have probably around 200 megawatts of community solar projects in Illinois," Star said. "That alone is a significant expansion of solar in Illinois.”

Star said the winners won’t be breaking ground just yet. First, they’ll be forwarded to the Illinois Commerce Commission.

“Assuming they vote to approve them," he said "then, obviously, it’s going to take time for contracts to get signed. So there are a number of procedural steps that happen after this.”

The companies building them will market their output to the public, likely by subscription. Customers will choose how much electricity from the grid they want to come from a solar garden. The amount will be credited on their electric bill. The companies say they think they can compete with regular utility rates, and save consumers money.

Community solar is one part of the Future Energy Jobs Act passed in 2016. It mandated greater renewable energy generation, increased energy efficiency, and more job training in the renewable energy industry.