OUR VIEW: Solar’s future gets brighter in Illinois

Lottery will boost state’s production, but more must be done to help community projects

by Sauk Valley Editorial Board
Solar power in Illinois took a big step forward with the Illinois Power Agency’s lottery held April 10 to award renewable energy credits to companies looking to bring their clean energy projects to the state.

Whiteside County was a winner, with companies getting credits for eight projects. Two each would be in Morrison, Fulton and Lyndon, while Rock Falls and Prophetstown would get one each.

In Lee County, there was only one lottery winner – a project by Forefront Power LLC at Paw Paw Road in Paw Paw. Lee County, however, is already dealing with a proposal from Junction Solar LLC to bring the biggest project the county has seen to date. The company is seeking a special-use permit for a 100-megawatt solar farm in Steward between Herman and Reynolds roads. The project would encompass about 760 acres and generate enough energy to power 20,000 homes.

The special-use request will go before the Lee County Zoning Board on Thursday. If approved, construction could begin in spring 2020 and be completed in the fall. The Junction Solar project would be developed by Geronimo Energy, the owner of the Green River Wind Farm, which takes up 13,000 acres of land in Lee and Whiteside counties.

Bureau and Ogle counties each had two proposed projects selected in the lottery.

While the lottery provides impetus for solar power in Illinois, the large rooftop projects for utilities distribution were the big winners outside the lottery process. All 740 of the large-volume requests were awarded Solar Renewable Energy Certificates contracts.

In the lottery, an overwhelming majority of the community solar projects, subscription-based producers for residents, however, wound up on a waiting list, including 40 projects in the Sauk Valley.

In the Group A community solar group, only 34 of 452 projects were accepted, totaling only 63.8 megawatts of power. Projects on the waiting list would generate 860 megawatts of energy. The second community group had 433 project submissions, of which 78 were selected.

The state has been making strides in alternative energy production since the creation of the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016. Illinois utility companies, under the legislation, are required to get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. The availability of more energy credits makes Illinois a more competitive playing field.

Illinois still ranks 34th in the nation in solar power production, and its percentage of electricity from that renewable source is only 0.08 percent. With the help of the Future Energy Jobs Act and the availability of more credits, the state’s ranking is projected to jump to 12th in the next 5 years. More, however, must be done to boost community solar production for residential purposes.