Speeding Its Way to the Future – Illinois Tollway Goes Green With Solar

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October 31, 2017

When you’re traveling down the I-90 corridor near Rockford this Winter, you can breathe a little easier knowing that the Illinois Tollway is doing its part to make the Land of Lincoln both cleaner and greener. Just ask Craig Stone, Electrician and Foreman for Continental Electrical. Stone is leading the construction of a new solar array in Rockford at the M7 Maintenance facility. Stone has been involved with some of the largest solar projects built by Continental in the past year including Grayslake High school which now hosts 2.7 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in Lake County.

The Illinois Tollway announced in 2015 that its next capital program would be the ‘Cleanest and Greenest Capital Program in History’ referring to an emphasis on Environmental, Social and Economic impacts of sustainable operations. With an annual budget of $1B, that’s a lot of green the agency can bring to road construction and maintenance projects across Illinois.

A Continental Electrician works to connect the solar array to the building’s power.

From Zero to Two Hundred in 90 Days

“What’s awesome about these projects is that two skilled electricians can install the 200 kW photovoltaic system (featuring SunPower solar modules) in just 90 days,” said Jeff Bell, Project Manager for Continental. Once built, the solar array will produce power from sunrise to sunset 365 days a year for 25 years.

1.5 Million vehicles travel the Illinois Tollway system every day. The Tollway brings us such loved inventions as the I-Pass and open-road tolling that make highway travel in Illinois convenient. Since 2011, the Tollway has been implementing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) at its facilities. This translates into a focus on improving the environmental, social and economic impacts of all highways, bridges, tolls and maintenance buildings.

All this infrastructure is continuously being maintained, upgraded, and expanded. Continental Electrical is completing a 193 kilowatt (kW) solar array on the roof of the newly constructed building that is part of a major upgrade to the M7 Tollway maintenance building in Rockford along the I-90 corridor; M7 will house dozens of Tollway trucks including snow plows and salt trucks that keep the roads running smoothly in winter weather.

Solar Reduces the Tollway’s Power Bill

An almost completed solar array for the Illinois Tollway near I-90.

Any facility with a power bill can benefit from putting solar panels on its roof or grounds. Solar panels, also knowns as solar modules, make electricity from the sun’s energy. When completed in November 2017, the 193 kW solar array at M7 will produce 251,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity each year; almost $20,000 worth of electricity, enough power to energize 28 homes! Going solar pays economic dividends, but the Tollway is highly motivated by the social and environmental impacts as well.

Solar power is a way for the Agency to reduce pollution which cleans up the environment and makes the air we breathe healthier. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas calculator, the M7 Tollway solar project will reduce emissions equivalent to 40 cars per year or burning 204,000 lbs. of coal. With every solar array we install in Illinois, future generations can breathe easier.