DECATUR — The solar surge in Macon County will have to wait.
Five community solar farm projects — two in Oreana, two in Decatur and one in Argenta — lost a state lottery for renewable energy credits last week, joining a lengthy waitlist of projects across Illinois. Advocates say an expansion of the state's renewable energy program could open up room for more solar farms to be built, but it's unclear whether lawmakers are willing to foot the bill.
For now, the results were a disappointment to landowners like Jay Edgecombe, whose property would have hosted the first solar farm that the Macon County Board approved last year.
“It doesn't surprise me,” he said. “I would have liked to be picked, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.”
Community solar projects are those that sell electricity to subscribers. They are typically hosted on 15 to 20 acres and could generate up to 2,000 kilowatts of power. Statewide, 909 such projects were entered into the lottery, and just 112 won credits in the results announced Thursday by the Illinois Power Agency.
The lottery is part of a massive expansion of renewable energy in Illinois sparked by the Future Energy Jobs Act. Passed in 2016, it called for a quarter of the state’s power production to come from sources such as wind and solar by 2025. Winning solar farm operators will ultimately be able to sell renewable energy credits back to utility companies, Power Agency Director Anthony Star said.
Star said a lottery was necessary because the demand for the renewable energy credits far outweighed available funds. Illinois' community solar program was only able to support 12 percent of the projects that applied, Star said.
Without an expansion of the state program, the remaining projects are in limbo, according to Pete Gray, spokesman for the Path to 100 Coalition, a group of labor and renewable energy businesses and nonprofit organizations that are working to expand Illinois' renewable energy program.
Illinois' solar energy expansion added more than 1,300 new jobs in the state in 2018. That figure is expected to increase this year as construction begins on the projects that received tax credits.
"We've proven that Illinois' renewable energy program can deliver jobs and economic growth for all communities in our state," said Nakhia Morrissette, Midwest director of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. "Labor and renewable energy organizations are united in support of HB2966, which would create 20,000 new wind and solar jobs and generate more than $3 billion in new tax revenue for Illinois."
Converting to solar power helps consumers reduce their electricity bills, and community solar projects generate an average of $140,000 per megawatt in local property taxes over a project's 20-year life.
In Macon County, the waitlisted projects are at:
- 4242 Kirby Road, Oreana.
- 602 E. Broadway St., Argenta
- 4640 E Illiniwick Road, Oreana
- Wesley Road & St. Louis Bridge Road, Decatur
- Brush College Road and Cundiff Road, Decatur
Projects in another category, “large distributed generation,” were more successful, with all 740 statewide qualifying for renewable energy credits. These projects use solar panels to generate electricity for businesses and property owners. In Decatur, those planning projects include Busey Bank downtown and Walmart on the city’s north side.
For solar supporters hoping to see a community project in Macon County, there is some hope. Several pieces of legislation being proposed in Springfield would bring more funding for renewable energy, opening up the chance for more projects to receive credits.
The Path to 100 Coalition is among those lobbying to expand the program, arguing that the state cannot meet its energy goals without doing so.
“We appreciate the Illinois Power Agency’s tireless work in executing Illinois’ first adjustable block program,” said Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, in a statement. “Now that millions have been invested in project development and consumers and counties across the state are waiting to benefit from solar power, we need the General Assembly to act and expand this successful program.”
Regardless of what happens in Springfield, Jay Edgecombe said he hopes to try again to get a solar farm on his property.
“It promises more money than I get per acre than the cash rent crop,” he said. “The solar farm isn’t as dangerous to the land, compared to wind farms. The solar farm doesn’t make noise or kill any birds.”
Donnette Beckett and the Rockford Register Star contributed to this story.