Illinois electric cooperatives dedicate two solar farms

Helping dedicate the Prairie Power Spoon River Solar Farm on Friday were nearly 100 students from Astoria. They joined (l-r) Prairie Power Board Chairman Jim Thompson, Interim President/CEO Dan Breden, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, State Rep. Michel Unes and Spoon River Electric Cooperative President/CEO Bill Dodds. The 500 kW solar farm includes a unique interactive learning center that is open to the public. It is located 3 miles northeast of Summum, Ill. along Highway 24.

Helping dedicate the Prairie Power Spoon River Solar Farm on Friday were nearly 100 students from Astoria. They joined (l-r) Prairie Power Board Chairman Jim Thompson, Interim President/CEO Dan Breden, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, State Rep. Michel Unes and Spoon River Electric Cooperative President/CEO Bill Dodds. The 500 kW solar farm includes a unique interactive learning center that is open to the public. It is located 3 miles northeast of Summum, Ill. along Highway 24.

Prairie Power, Inc., a Springfield, Ill. based generation and transmission cooperative providing wholesale power to ten Illinois electric distribution cooperatives, dedicated two 500 kW solar farms in October. The Spoon River Solar Farm, located between Havana and Astoria on Highway 24, also includes a unique learning center. The Shelby Solar Farm is located along Highway 16, approximately 1 mile east of the Lake Shelbyville Dam.

Adams Electric Cooperative, Camp Point; Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, Mattoon; Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative, Paxton; Illinois Electric Cooperative, Winchester; Jo-Carroll Energy, Elizabeth; McDonough Power Cooperative, Macomb; Menard Electric Cooperative, Petersburg; Shelby Electric Cooperative, Shelbyville; Spoon River Electric Cooperative, Canton; and Western Illinois Electrical Coop., Carthage are the distribution cooperative owners of Prairie Power, Inc. and participants in the two solar projects.

“The electric cooperatives believe in an all-of-the-above electric supply portfolio that includes renewable energy,” said Dan Breden, Interim President/CEO. “Prairie Power already owns wind generation from an Illinois wind farm near Paxton.”

The cost of each of the two solar farms was $1.6 million. Breden said building a larger solar facility, as opposed to smaller rooftop solar projects, has the advantage of lower cost. “While solar energy is still somewhat more expensive than traditional resources, such as coal and natural gas fueled generation plants, the cost of large scale solar ­projects has declined substantially over the past several years and the panels are becoming more efficient in turning sunlight into electricity.”

Although the energy will flow directly into the local electric distribution grid, Breden said they are considering offering the member consumers of the 10 member co-ops of the G&T, the ability to participate directly in the solar farms. More will be coming on these possibilities once the details are worked out.

In addition to adding to its diversified power ­supply, PPI’s board of directors felt it was important to use this project as a learning project for the co-ops, their ­members and the public. Breden said, “The learning ­center is one of the most exciting aspects of this solar farm project. Bill Dodds, the manager at Spoon River Electric Cooperative, had the vision for the learning center and wanted to engage young people through the schools in learning more about renewable energy. Through working with Tracy and Scott Snowman, two prominent artists and designers from Canton, they brought the vision to life.”

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