Four community solar projects will be constructed outside of Murrayville and Meredosia this year, providing energy credits to people who subscribe to the program.
Denver-based solar energy company Pivot Energy announced this week that it was awarded 11 of the community solar projects in an Illinois Power Agency program lottery.
Garrett Peterson, Pivot vice president of project development, said the company is expecting to break ground on the projects this year, likely in late summer or early fall, and they could be operational by the end of the year.
The four sites are located outside of Meredosia, just east of the river, and just north of Murrayville. There are two sites planned outside of each municipality.
Regional Planning Commission Director Dusty Douglas has worked with the company to permit the projects, which require a special-use permit. Douglas said solar gardens are “not very obtrusive.”
“Other than the landowners who won’t get to farm around them, they shouldn’t affect anyone around them,” Douglas said.
The company works with landowners to lease the land for the sites. Peterson said the footprint for each site is about 15 acres.
Pivot Energy has done many commercial solar projects, but no community solar projects in Illinois so far. The company has done community solar projects in other states, such as Colorado.
“These community solar gardens are really the first of their kind in the state. And this is the first round of development like this,” Peterson said.
Pivot Energy, which has been in Illinois since 2012, has done close to 90 commercial and residential solar projects in the state. The company has offices in Chicago and St. Louis.
“We opened our regional office in Chicago in 2017 with the vision to expand access to solar energy for all Illinoisans and contribute to the state’s clean energy economy,” CEO Rick Hunter said in a statement. “These awards will help solidify that long-term commitment to the local communities and support our mission of accelerating the shift to clean energy in communities across the nation.”
The projects are currently in the initial design and permitting phases, and construction should take three to four months. Peterson said the company plans to hire local labor to work on the projects.
Once operational at the end of 2019 or in early 2020, Peterson said the panels will last for decades.
“The panels themselves can continue to produce power for about 50 years. It’s really more so how efficient they become at that stage, so we model out about a 30-year lifespan on these projects,” he said.
Power produced on the site is metered and subscribers get credits on their energy bill. Peterson said each site generates enough power to offset energy use of about 400 homes, depending on home size.
“So, a customer subscribes and gets an energy bill credit on their utility bill for the power that’s produced by the garden,” he said.
Peterson said the program is open to anyone — from households to municipalities, schools and businesses — in areas served by Ameren. Subscribers don’t have to live near the sites to participate.
The Illinois Power Agency selects community solar projects for the Adjustable Block Program through a lottery.
Because of the lottery process, Pivot didn’t know which of its proposed sites would be picked. Peterson said the company looked across the state for sites on flat ground, located next to Ameren lines, and avoided wetlands and wooded areas.
“We’re pretty happy to get this many sites selected in Morgan County, because we think it’s going to be a great impact on the local community,” Peterson said. “It’s somewhere where there’s really not a lot of solar that has been installed yet.”