Illinois utility to double its community solar capacity this year

Speedway Solar

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A northern Illinois city that is home to the first electric bus assembly facility of Lion Electric can now add another clean energy accolade to its dashboard. Located 35 miles southwest of Chicago, the city of Joliet, Illinois is now home to the 75th community solar project to open in the Prairie State.

Earlier this month utility Commonwealth Edison, an Exelon company, unveiled the 2.5 MW Speedway Solar facility, built by Summit Ridge Energy, a commercial and industrial solar developer. Located 10 miles outside of Joliet, the Speedway project will provide clean energy to more than 350 local Joliet customers. The facility includes more than 2,300 solar modules on 31 acres in Elwood, Illinois.

By the the end of 2023 ComEd expects to double its current installation rate to have more than 150 community solar projects installed, serving more than 36,000 customers across its more than 11,400 square mile service territory in northern Illinois.

“The completion of 75 community solar developments in our service territory is a major milestone on our path to a clean energy future,” said Scott Vogt, vice president of strategy and energy policy, ComEd. “Our collaboration with Summit Ridge Energy is expanding customer access to clean and affordable renewable energy and contributing to the goal of reducing carbon emissions in our communities.”

Local utility customers earn credits on their monthly utility bills for their portion of the energy produced by the Speedway Solar facility. Energy generated by community solar flows to the electric grid to become part of the overall energy supply in ComEd’s service territory.

Based in Arlington, Virginia, Summit Ridge is the largest commercial solar developer across the state of Illinois, with a portfolio of more than 250 MW across the midwestern state, according to ComEd. Summit Ridge develops commercial and industrial rooftop as well as community solar across several Midwest, MidAtlantic and Northeast states.

In December, the developer partnered with 548 Enterprise, Ecademy and the Power52 Foundation to launch the “Sustainability Hub” on Chicago’s West Side to train more than 10,000 residents over the next decade.

The solar apprenticeship program is a 13-week (450 hour) training program targeting veterans, formerly incarcerated citizens returning to the workforce (returning citizens), and high school-aged adults from underserved communities. Upon completion, participants can participate in on-site training at one of Summit Ridge’s community solar projects in Illinois.

548 Enterprise and Ecademy, which provide workforce outreach and clean energy online training, announced that their respective campaign will raise $20 million to support curriculum development, program resources, and credentialing services for the Sustainability Hub.

A Power52 representative previously told pv magazine USA  that guidance around solar apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship recognition related to the Investment Tax Credit pertaining to the Inflation Reduction Act was still at an early stage. The company is in the process of getting the training program recognized by Department of Labor as a Clean Energy Apprenticeship program.  Further details on the solar apprenticeship can be found here.

The first participants of the hub will begin training this year. Click here to participate or learn more about the Chicago-area solar training program.

Illinois introduced a community solar offering under the Illinois Shines program in 2019, and has a healthy mix of residential, commercial, and community solar installations. The utility-scale sector had its landmark year in 2021, and this is expected to continue to accelerate. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) projects Illinois will add 4.94 GW of solar over the next five years, placing it within the top 10 states for solar development outlook.

Electrified School Buses

In addition to being the fictional hometown of “Joliet Jake” Blues from “The Blues Brothers,” Joliet, Ill., entered the vernacular of clean energy enthusiasts this past year when Canadian-listed electric bus company Lion Electric produced its first all-electric school bus from its facility in the Illinois city.

On November 2, 2022, Lion Electric, a manufacturer of all-electric medium and heavy-duty vehicles, announced production of its first zero-emission LionC school bus in Joliet, a 900,000 square foot manufacturing facility with 20,000 vehicles per year production capacity. The production of the first LionC bus occurred at a time when market demand for all-electric school buses is gaining momentum.

Accelerated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Program, under which the EPA has awarded funding for over 2,200 all-electric buses to school districts nationwide with $968 million first round funding out of the $5 billion multi-year electric bus program.   In addition, federal incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act will drive an additional $30 billion in tax credits, loans and grants to domestic production of consumer, commercial and industrial electric vehicles.

Under the EPA Clean School Bus program, a subsidy of $375,000 per school bus, or up to 100% of the cost, and $20,000 in funding towards charging infrastructure, can be awarded to producers of electric buses and integrated charging facilities.

Prior to opening its U.S. facility, Lion Electric’s main facilities based in St.-Jerome, Quebec, produced at 2,500 vehicle annual capacity of buses and trucks.  The company has 1,350 employees as of late 2022 and trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange with a $527.5 million market capitalization.

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