Why Naperville is turning to solar power
An array of solar panels slated for installation in Naperville is expected to produce enough electricity to power 145 homes each year.
It also will serve as an educational opportunity for the community and a precursor for the possible expansion of the city's renewable energy program, said Lucy Podlesny, deputy director for the electric utility department.
The Springbrook Water Reclamation Facility has been chosen as a host site for 3,500 high-efficiency solar panels covering 6 acres at 3712 Plainfield-Naperville Road. The 1-megawatt solar array -- the first of its kind in Naperville -- could be constructed and operational as early as next spring, Podlesny said.
"Solar is one of the ways of the future. It's carbon free, and it's a great resource to have," she said. "It's also a great learning opportunity, so we're excited about that."
Naperville applied last May and recently was selected for the solar-power project led by the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency, a nonprofit from which the city and 31 other municipalities buys its energy. The city council has approved a siting agreement with the agency.
The array will be built and operated by Sol Systems, a solar finance and development firm that will sell the power produced back to the municipal electric agency, Podlesny said. The energy then will be fed into the city's distribution system.
Installed on steel, fixed-tilt racks, the panels are expected to produce 1.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, Podlesny said. The ground-mounted system aims to offer year-round environmental benefits, while also offsetting the peak cost of electricity in the summer.
The panels are being installed at no direct cost to the city, she said, though an estimated $150,000 worth of labor and materials are required for staff to interconnect the distribution system.
The Illinois Municipal Electric Agency plans to install similar arrays in Rock Falls and Altamont, in addition to two already created in St. Charles and Rantoul. The projects are one way the agency has attempted to diversify its power sources after construction delays and cost overruns at one of its main sources -- a southern Illinois coal plant -- caused it to raise rates, city officials said.
As an added perk, Podlesny said, Naperville staff members will gain experience integrating a utility-scale solar resource into its operations. The project also will add a sustainability component to the Springbrook wastewater treatment plant, she said, which will enrich the educational experience for more than 1,000 students who tour there each year.
"We thought it'd be a great benefit to the city," she said. "It shows our support for renewable energies."
Naperville officials have been exploring ways to expand its renewable energy program, which allows residential and commercial utility customers to purchase wind and solar power systems.
One idea is to offer grants to residential customers who wish to install and promote renewable energy options -- a program currently only available for commercial customers, Podlesny said. The city also may consider adding solar panels on the roof of the public works building on Fort Hill Drive.
Officials are seeking input and additional ideas from others, including North Central College, the city's sustainability task force and customers, she said. Community members also can participate in an online survey, which can be found on the city's website.
Staff members are expected to bring recommendations to the public utilities advisory board in July. Any proposed changes to the program also would be brought before the city council.
"We're trying to increase our footprint here on renewables," Podlesny said, "because that's very important for the future."