Making Waves — Illinois

December 4, 2023

Climate problems may seem too big to tackle, yet people all around this great nation are taking action. This is a state-by-state review of how some are responding.

This week’s column looks at: ILLINOIS and the question is: How does a “community solar” approach work, and is it a better option than installing rooftop solar?

The State of Illinois has embraced community solar and this is good news for its residents. Even though the Illinois state motto is “The Prairie State” not “The Sunshine State” (Florida), it has taken a bold step toward renewable energy in a way that offers both consumer protections and affordability, in win-win solar programs.

What is community solar? A good analogy is a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture), a farm-based subscription service where you pay a certain amount to participate, and in return, you get a periodic share of the harvest. In community solar, you buy a subscription to a local solar project; any solar power generated shows up on your electric bill as a credit; also, the cost of your share/subscription gets applied to your electric bill. The only thing that changes is what your electric bill looks like when you open it. Savings obviously will vary according to the size of your share, how much power you consume, and the amount of power the solar project generates. Most companies and organizations that run community solar projects report that customers save 15%-75% each month. Best of all, these programs give subscribers direct access to solar without having to do upkeep and maintenance, and the rates for subscription are continually paid off through your lowered electric bill.

Currently, there are 77 utility companies in 26 states that offer community solar programs, according to Deloitte, a global financial services company that is best described as “not your grandfather’s accounting company.” Illinois is one of the top-ranked states in the US for clean power consumption. This table shows the pros and cons of community solar vs. rooftop.

This week’s podcast is all business. It features an energy company executive who was converted through his experience with community solar programs and now is one of its biggest proponents. If you have internet access, you’ll be able to listen to these programs. First:
Podcast: The Clean Power Hour (April 5, 2022)
Episode 80: Bruce Stewart, CEO of Perch Energy, Bringing Community Solar to the Masses [33mins]

If you are short on time, I also offer this two-minute plug for converting unusable, undevelopable land at former landfills into solar farms. In this case, the solar farm is in Urbana, Illinois. It fully powers a municipal building plus 300 homes. The podcast includes stats on how many such landfills across the US might be similarly converted, and how much power it would generate.
Podcast: Climate Connections (Mar. 22, 2022)
Episode: Illinois dump becomes a community solar farm [2 mins]

Let me know if you have a podcast to recommend, or have a comment about my column or have trouble finding a particular podcast I’ve mentioned. Happy listening!
[email protected]

Note: This column, part of a series looking at examples of positive climate action, state-by-state, first appeared in the Forest Press 07-27-2022. If you are interested in this state’s topic, check online for updated news, as a lot may have changed in a year.


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