First solar project of its kind in the state lights up in Elgin
Elgin's Rainy Solar is the first community solar project in Illinois, and the credit is going to an entrepreneur who had a compelling vision, the support of the city and a dose of luck.
Rainy Solar consists of 3,730 solar panels on the roof of a 120,000-square-foot commercial building at 1111 Davis Road in Elgin. It is the first to start delivering power into the local electrical grid among 112 community solar projects across the state selected for the "adjustable block program" by the Illinois Power Agency.
"Whenever you can do an entrepreneurial endeavor that makes sense on paper and it also helps mankind and the community, that's like the trifecta," Ken Buckman, CEO and owner of Rainy Solar, said at the project's formal ribbon-cutting Thursday morning.
Rainy Solar's panels will generate and deliver to ComEd's grid approximately 1.2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 400 homes, according to ComEd. The city of Elgin is Rainy Solar project's largest subscriber, with more than 20 municipal energy accounts; the others are Highland Park, Oak Park, Deerfield, Glenview, Glencoe, Park Forest, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.
Community solar projects sell renewable energy certificates to help meet clean energy goals as guided by the state's Future Energy Jobs Act of 2017. Subscribers get net metering credits against their energy bills for their prorated share of the generated energy.
The nine municipalities have entered into 20-year agreements with Rainy Solar that will allow 10% energy savings, Buckman said. The agreements can be voided in 30 days if the terms aren't met.
Buckman said he bought the Davis Road building, which includes the Elgin Sports Center and three other tenants, two years ago. The lengthy process leading to Thursday's ribbon-cutting included figuring out tax incentives and rebates at the federal, state and local levels; hiring law and engineering firms; getting financing; finding an electricity supplier; and working with ComEd and the Illinois Solar Energy Association.
The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus connected Buckman with municipalities that wanted to subscribe.
But when Buckman took on the overall $3.7 million investment -- which he expects to recoup in about 4½ years -- it was still unclear whether community solar projects would be selected on a first-come, first-served basis or if there would be a lottery.
As it turns out, the Illinois Power Agency had an algorithm-based lottery in April, and Buckman's project was among the 112 selected. Another 807 were wait-listed.
"I know a developer who had 34 projects in and got zero," said Scott Vogt, vice president of strategy and energy policy for ComEd. "He (Buckman) had one and he hit it."
Vogt presented Buckman with a check for $299,840 through the distributed generation rebate program, a requirement of the Future Energy Jobs Act. The rebate pays $250 per kilowatt of installed solar power capacity.
Buckman, who lives in Elgin, said he's grateful to the city for working with him to make the project happen.
Mayor David Kaptain said Buckman's interest prompted the city to develop a streamlined solar panel permitting process. A total of 35 solar permits were issued in 2018 and 125 so far this year, compared to eight permits from 2013 to 2017.
"He had a vision," Kaptain said. "I gotta congratulate him on finishing the project, and I also have to thank him, because he's the one who started the ball rolling for the city of Elgin."