New DeKalb solar developments powered by Illinois’ clean energy law

SunVest Solar, ComEd and Rethink Electric tout new installations which they say will help DeKalb residents save on electric bills

Brad Koeppke leads a tour Oct. 10, 2023 of one of the two community solar projects in DeKalb.

DeKALB – DeKalb is now home to two solar developments meant to save residents money on electric bills and bolster local clean energy production in line with a state law that commits to growing Illinois’ renewable energy production.

Solar energy developer SunVest Solar unveiled two community solar installations Tuesday along 24 acres off Gurler Road and South First Street. Officials said the solar developments were made possible due to Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker in September 2021.

The start of electrical production for the two community solar projects has been a long time in the making, officials said.

“A lot of people want to contribute to renewable energy,” Mayor Cohen Barnes said. “A lot of people can’t. Either they don’t have the cash for something like that, or they’re in a community with a lot of trees, or their house doesn’t support having the solar panels. To have a community solar project in our community that people can contribute to and be a part of this global change that we’re seeing and also in their own way be able to contribute to the attraction of more economic development out here in the city of DeKalb, is fantastic.”

Tim Polz (left) and DeKalb Mayor Cohen  Barnes ceremoniously flips the switch at a ceremony held Oct. 10, 2023 in DeKalb to celebrate the activation of two community solar installation projects.

The twin community solar farms carry an aggregate generation capacity of 6 megawatts, allowing enough energy to supply more than 850 average Illinois homes. Project leaders said the community solar installations will generate $35,000 annually in property tax revenue and a little under $900,000 over the lifetime of the two projects.

SunVest operates solar energy sites in 17 states, according to its website. It has 44 megawatt facilities in Illinois, and another 34 are on the way. It’s also installed solar panels on the roofs of Sycamore-based Suter Company buildings.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act enacted a series of sweeping policy goals meant to phase out carbon emissions and combat climate change to get Illinois on track to have 50% of all energy production be clean and renewable by 2040. The law also promised yearly investments for workforce development training in clean energy industry jobs, and in new renewable energy sources, such as what SunVest will supply to DeKalb.

Neighboring residents to the two community solar farms are able to subscribe to the service through ComEd.

If fully utilized, participating DeKalb residents and businesses are expected to save $90,000 in ComEd electric bills in the first year and more than $1.7 million over the lifetime of the two community solar projects, project leaders said. By the end of 2023, ComEd intends to have 100 more community solar projects on the electric grid serving about 25,000 customers.

“To have a community solar project in our community that people can contribute to and be a part of this global change that we’re seeing and also in their own way be able to contribute to the attraction of more economic development out here in the city of DeKalb, is fantastic.”

—  DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes

Scott Vogt, vice president of strategy and energy policy at ComEd, said he’s thrilled to see DeKalb flipping the switch on for solar energy.

“We are excited to see projects like this come on line,” Vogt said. “We need many, many more of them to come on line in order to meet the state’s energy policy goals that [are] on the path to 100% clean energy by 2045.”

The clean energy Act also is meant to aid the creation of more than 9,800 megawatts of new solar capacity.

Tim Polz, chief development officer at SunVest Solar, heaped praise on the DeKalb project. He said Illinois’ climate legislation spurred SunVest to move its headquarters from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Chicago.

“The long-term commitments that’s represented through the [climate] legislation has caused Illinois to be a renewable energy hub nationally,” Polz said.

Scott Vogt, vice president of strategy and energy policy at ComEd, speaks Oct. 10, 2023 at a ribbon cutting ceremony in DeKalb to celebrate activation of a community solar installation project.

First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Zasada said she is proud of the city’s efforts to boost solar production.

Zasada recently announced she’s running to succeed Democratic State Representative Lance Yednock’s 76th District seat in the 2024 election.

“I think DeKalb has done a great job of encouraging solar production,” Zasada said. “We’ve seen a bunch of solar farms pop up, but you’ll see things like the solar farm that’s supposed to happen at the airport that’s been delayed. It’s not DeKalb’s fault, it’s really more at the state level. Those are things we have to iron out the details of to make it easier for them to do their projects.”

Barnes – also running to represent District 76 in the General Assembly – said he understands that solar development can be a divisive topic in state politics, but said he’s excited to champion the cause.

“I look forward to advocating and making sure we have local control over solar,” Barnes said. “It’s companies like SunVest, that allow us to have that relationship to work together for what’s best for them and what’s best for the community. So, they’ve been an absolutely phenomenal partner in this process. … After the life of this contract, [this land] could go back to farmland, which is also a beautiful thing. So, it’s great to see a local landowner be able to benefit from this, but we’re able to maintain the integrity of our soil, as well.”

Zasada said that advocating for clean energy shouldn’t have to be divisive.

“It’s been really evident that we’re feeling the pain of climate change, especially with our farmlands,” Zasada said. “I think whatever we can do to make energy more renewable is really critical.”

One of the two community solar projects (shown here) as seen Oct. 10, 2023 near Gurler Road and S. First Street in DeKalb.

This article was updated at 9:24 a.m. Oct. 12, 2023 to correct the House District Barnes and Zasada are running for: It is Illinois House District 76.

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