Community Solar is Coming to Illinois and Continental is Going to Install It!

November 3, 2017

If you have a power bill you can benefit from solar PV. If you have a large sunny roof or piece of ground you could host a community solar array and earn passive income from your property while producing clean green solar power. ‘Community Solar’ refers to a solar PV facility shared by as few as three businesses or individuals or as many as several hundred. Participants are called ‘subscribers’ and they are businesses or individuals who receive credits on their utility bills for their portion of the power produced by the community solar array.

We’re about to see an explosion of solar PV in Illinois and Continental has already installed over 10 megawatts of solar panels across the state, especially Chicagoland. Just ask IKEA – Continental Electrical (@CECCOEnergy) just completed installation of a third IKEA rooftop solar array in Chicagoland. The 2.9-megawatt solar array at the new regional distribution warehouse in Joliet will produce 3.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. This is equivalent to removing 598 cars from the road (in greenhouse gas reductions) and is enough to power 418 homes!

Community solar systems are also called community solar gardens. You can put a community solar garden just about anywhere you have open space:

  • Rooftops and parking lots of community centers, churches, schools, or other community buildings
  • Malls, apartment buildings, or other multi-tenant buildings
  • Warehouse, manufacturing facility or empty lot or field.

Larger sites will host larger solar systems and there are economies of scale in solar which will encourage larger projects because they can offer subscribers lower electricity rates.

How Community Solar Works*

  1. Sunlight hits the solar panels in the community solar field, generating electricity
  2. The electricity produced is measured (called metering) and given a dollar value
  3. The utility distributes this dollar value proportionately to the subscribers to the system including residents, businesses, municipalities, and institutions
  4. The value of the solar electricity produced from the array is applied as a monetary credit to each member’s electric bill
  5. *See: How to Develop a Community Solar Project by ISEA

If you are interested in bringing community solar to your community you will want to work with several community stakeholders. Those communities that plan now will end up getting projects built in their communities. It takes a fair amount of planning and collaboration with various entities including solar developers, local government, and the utility. Start today by downloading this slide deck from the Illinois Solar Energy Association. Another great resource is the NREL the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. They have a site dedicated to community solar here.

The sooner you involve a core group of stakeholders, the greater your success. Reach out to local and regional government, solar developers, solar installers, local business and community leaders, school officials and a variety of nonprofit groups including the faith community, social services, and environmental groups. Call Tim Montague at Continental Electrical to learn more; 217.722.0429 m tmontague@cecco.com

Identifying potential sites early in the process is important. A community solar site could be as small as a quarter acre rooftop and as a large as a 20-acre farm field. The real estate and utility assets like power lines and sub-stations in your community will determine what is possible.  The developer doesn’t want to own the real estate, they just want to lease it, build a solar array on it, and operate the array for 20-25 years.