Two solar farms under construction at Illinois electric cooperatives

photo 1 Kevin BernsonPrairie Power, Inc., a Springfield-based generation and transmission ­cooperative providing wholesale power to ten Illinois electric distribution ­cooperatives, is building two 500 kW solar farms. Each solar farm will be located on approximately five acres and have 2,062 solar panels. Despite heavy rainfall during construction the two projects are on schedule. The two farms are expected to be operational early this fall.

The Spoon River Solar Farm is located in Fulton County along Highway 24 ­approximately three miles northeast of Summum. The Shelby Solar Farm is located in Shelby County along Highway 16 approximately one mile east of the Lake Shelbyville Dam. These two locations were chosen because they were in electric ­cooperative service territories, the land required was available for lease and there were electric ­cooperative power lines nearby for the solar farms to tie into.

“The electric cooperatives believe in an all-of-the-above electric supply portfolio that includes renewable energy,” said Robert Reynolds, manager of the solar projects for PPI. “Prairie Power already owns wind generation from an Illinois wind farm near Paxton.”

Reynolds said diversity in the cooperative’s power supply is important. “Managing a power supply portfolio is ­similar to managing one’s personal investments, and diversity is essential,” he said. “Solar and other forms of renewable energy will provide additional diversity in our power supply portfolio, which has the potential to reduce risks and costs over the long term.”

The cost of each of the two solar farms will be around $1.6 ­million. Reynolds 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 sun light into electricity.”

The Spoon River Solar Farm will also include a learning center where co-op members and the general public can learn more about solar energy.

PPI drew on a variety of resources to develop this ­project. Reynolds says, “We worked with National Renewables Cooperative Organization (NRCO), Cooperative Finance Corp. (CFC), CoBank, Azimuth Energy, Shelby Electric Cooperative and Spoon River Electric Cooperative. NRCO assisted with the technical and economic feasibility ­analyses as well as the business structure of the project. CFC and CoBank arranged the financing. Azimuth Energy was the successful bidder for the engineering, materials ­procurement and construction of the project. Shelby Electric Cooperative and Spoon River Electric Cooperative have both assisted in numerous ways ranging from facilitating the land ­arrangements to the electric connection to the solar farm.”