Solar companies flock to Illinois, bringing jobs, enthusiasm and some questions

Kari Lydersen | Energy News Network

The family company Wellspring Components started four generations ago to fabricate metal for horse-drawn buggies for Amish families in Indiana. Today, its offshoot Wellspring Solar is among a growing number of national and Midwestern companies launching new solar operations in Illinois, thanks to incentives under the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act.

Wellspring first got into solar and batteries a quarter century ago as a way to charge batteries for lights on the buggies, vice president/general manager Arlin Yoder explained. Soon they were building solar arrays on homes and barns more generally. Amish and Mennonite families in the Midwest have long been interested in solar since it allows them to use electricity in a sustainable way without being connected to the grid.

Today Wellspring Solar serves off-grid and grid-tied residential customers – Amish and otherwise, and also builds larger commercial installations up to 1 megawatt. Once the incentives available under FEJA became clear, they decided to open an office and hire employees in Illinois, a few hours’ drive from their Shipshewana, Indiana headquarters.

Wellspring is among more than a dozen companies that have started or significantly expanded solar operations in Illinois because of FEJA, which mandates the state develop about 3,000 MW of solar by 2030, up from about 74 MW when the bill passed in late 2016. With the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) that form the basis of the incentives becoming available next year, and provisions to facilitate large-scale community solar development, the boom is only expected to continue.

“With the great incentives starting in Illinois, that’s a market where you want to be,” said Yoder.

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