Illinois Embraces Community Solar Program

Illinois community solar

Illinois follows Minnesota to become the second state in the Midwest to implement a statutory, statewide community solar program.

The state’s solar industry is going to be even more active in the coming years, as state utilities and regulators start formulating plans for community solar programs under the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act that passed in 2016.

Community solar programs make solar-generated power accessible to those who, for whatever reason, can’t install their own PV system. If solar were made available to these customers through shared solar programs, it could represent 32–49% of the distributed solar PV market by 2020, an NREL study found. That would increase cumulative solar PV development growth by 5.5 gigawatts to 11 gigawatts between 2015 and 2020, representing $8.2 billion to $16.3 billion in investment.

In Illinois, community solar is expected to create 11,363 total jobs between 2018 and 2030, according to a recent study released by Cook County. These jobs will produce an estimated $655 million in cumulative total earnings for local workers over that same time period, notes David Unger of Midwest Energy News.

Overall, the Future Energy Jobs Act aims to add 2,700 megawatts (MW) of solar statewide by 2030, compared to the current 75 MW. Of that, approximately half will come from distributed and community solar. “The old model is for the energy supply to be one way,” says ComEd spokesperson Elizabeth Keating. “Community Supply allows customers who do not, or cannot, choose to install their own generation, to participate in renewable generation.”

Illinois will be the second state in the Midwest to implement a statutory, statewide community solar program. Four years ago, Minnesota introduced community “solar gardens,” which also allowed customers to subscribe to nearby solar projects. More than 300 MW of solar gardens at more than 80 locations are proceeding through the design and construction process, according to Xcel Energy. “Minnesota’s program is really growing,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), says. “We expect Illinois to be growing extremely quickly over the next few years and to be a leading market for
community solar.”

The hope is that the value of the bill credit can be maximized for program participants. As of now, it appears the credit will be limited to electricity value, though that could expand to transmission value as well.