99 megawatts of solar in Illinois, 99 megawatts of solar…

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A major solar utility deal will provide a huge boost to Illinois and a rural cooperative organization serving the Midwest. Wabash Valley Power (WVP), headquartered in Indianapolis, has completed an agreement to buy electricity from a 99 MW PV project in Illinois developed by Ranger Power. Named Prairie State Solar Project, it will be located on private land in Perry County in southwestern Illinois, northwest of Carbondale.

Prairie State Solar Project, generating the equivalent of 15,000 homes’ worth of electricity, is scheduled to break ground in late 2019, and begin operations in 2021. Ranger Power, located in New York, will sell the electricity to WVP for 30 years, and sell the renewable energy credits (RECs) from the project through the Illinois Power Agency REC procurement process.

The project will realize a nearly $100 million investment and revenue for Perry County, as well as an estimated 200 construction jobs, and a permanent staff of 3 to 5 employees. “We’re excited to be one step closer to moving forward with this meaningful investment in our county which will support new jobs and new revenues for our community to invest in schools, roads and bridges,” said State Representative Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro).

“This new project will help reduce demand, while the additional economic and environmental benefits will impact many more Illinois residents and businesses,” said Adam Cohen, CEO of Ranger Power. “We are eager for the future and our partnership with Wabash Valley Power.”

Terms of leasing or tax revenues were not available, but some examples are available on other rural Illinois solar projects. In Whiteside County, 105 acres of farmland was leased for 25 years at $1,000 per acre. In Bureau County, a 313 acre site is expected to pay $120,000 a year in taxes. Lee County sites totaling 20 acres would be leased for 21 years at $2,000 per acre from a municipality.

Wabash Valley Power supplies electricity to 23 co-ops, 19 in Indiana, 3 in Illinois and 1 in Missouri. “As a cooperative, we strive to enter into agreements that have a positive impact for everyone involved, particularly in the communities we serve,” said Jay Bartlett, CEO of WVP. “Our agreement with Ranger Power is a landmark, large-scale solar project demonstrating the future of renewable energy growth.”

Terms of the 30 year power contract were not available, but the Prairie State Solar Project would make solar power a significant portion of WVP’s power mix. According to its 2016 Annual Report, WVP member sales totaled 7,941,538 MWh at a cost of $73.75/MWh. The Prairie State Solar Project is estimated to generate about 148,500 MWh in a typical year, potentially contributing almost 2% of sales alone. WVP has been reducing reliance on coal, still its primary energy source, and increasing use of renewable energy sources of wind, landfill gas and solar.

Illinois’ solar market, invigorated by passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), is just heating up, and while the FEJA-directed plan is nearing regulatory approval, utility-scale (above 2 MW, usually 10 or more MW) projects move forward.

Illinois’ solar share of electricity generated still languishes below 0.1%, well below the requirements in its Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). However, projects like Prairie State Solar and FEJA programs should enable Illinois to realize up to 3,000 MW of new projects by 2030, and achieve the RPS goal of 1.5% of electricity from solar by 2025.

“Today’s good news shows that clean, renewable energy is good for jobs and good for the environment in Southern Illinois,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Strong renewable energy policies and new clean innovative technologies can bring projects like this to every corner of Illinois.”