Batavia factory wants to add solar power, but city officials worry about cost impact on utility

Updated 10/21/2020 6:06 PM

One of Batavia's largest electricity customers wants to start using solar energy, as it plans to expand production.

And while city officials are pleased the company is seeking a more environmentally friendly source of energy, they want to make sure it doesn't come at a cost to the city's other utility customers.


Suncast Corp. has applied to install solar panels that could generate up to 1,230 kilowatts of electricity for its 1801 Suncast Lane facility. Suncast makes consumer plastic goods such as hose reels, snow shovels, sheds, deck boxes, planters and patio furniture.

City Administrator Laura Newman told aldermen at a committee meeting Tuesday that Suncast has plans to expand production.

Aldermen were receptive to using an energy source that has a lighter carbon footprint than traditional sources such as coal.

But some also said they wanted to know whether there would be a gain or loss, overall, in the electricity the city sells to Suncast. That's important because Batavia is bound for the next 22 years to a take-or-pay contract for purchasing its electricity. It does so through its membership in the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency, which invested in building and operating the Prairie State Energy Campus coal-fired plant. Electricity produced by the plant has turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. Batavia is required to pay for a minimum amount of electricity -- whether its customers use that amount or not -- and the use has been lower than expected.

"We want to be environmental, but we are also on the hook (for the take-or-pay bill)," Alderman Tony Malay said.

Suncast originally asked to install a solar-panel system that would generate more than five times the power of the one being considered, public works director Gary Holm said.

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The city limits the amount of solar power all customers can use to 2 percent of the system's peak load. This year, the limit is 1,760 kilowatts, and 340 KW have already been allocated (for 30 residential and two commercial customers).

Aldermen agreed that Suncast should not get any credit on its bill for excess electricity generated by the solar panels and sent into the electrical grid. The commercial and residential customers do get that credit.

Suncast has two production facilities in Batavia and a warehouse in West Chicago. Newman said big-box store chains were pleased by Suncast's ability this year to meet a surge in demand for products during the coronavirus pandemic.

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