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Illinois electric cooperatives dedicate solar farms


SPRINGFIELD — Prairie Power Inc., a Springfield, Ill. based generation and transmission cooperative providing wholesale power to 10 electric distribution cooperatives, has completed construction of two 500 kW solar farms.

The Spoon River Solar Farm was dedicated on Oct. 16. The solar farm, located between Havana and Astoria on Interstate 24, also includes a unique learning center.

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 Shelby Solar Farm was dedicated Monday and is located in Shelby County along Illinois Route 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 Dan Breden, Interim President/CEO. “Prairie Power already owns wind generation from an Illinois wind farm near Paxton.”

Breden 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 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 sun light 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 and T the ability to participate directly in the solar farms. More will be coming on these possibilities once the details are worked out.

“It’s exciting to think we will be providing member consumers a means of participating in solar renewable energy without the risks, hassles and costs of having solar panels on their roofs,” he said.

In addition to adding to its diversified power supply, Prairie Power’s board of directors felt it was important to use this project as both a learning project for the co-ops, their members and the public.

“The learning center is one of the most exciting aspects of this solar farm project,” Breden said. “Bill Dodds, the manager at Spoon River Electric Cooperative had the vision for the learning center and he 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.”

The solar farms will be owned by two wholly owned subsidiaries PPS – Spoon River LLC and Prairie Power Solar LLC. Breden credits the cooperation of several organizations for helping make the two solar farms possible.

“PPI drew on a variety of resources to develop this project. We have 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.”

Prairie Power Inc. provides wholesale electricity to 10 electric distribution cooperatives and is a member of Touchstone Energy — an alliance of 750 local, consumer-owned electric utilities around the country.

Helping dedicated the Prairie Power Spoon River Solar Farm on Friday were nearly 100 students from Astoria. They joined (l-r) Prairie Power, Inc. 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 students and the public. It is located three miles northeast of Summum, Ill. along Interstate 24.

For The Telegraph