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Illinois’s Community Solar Program

Originally published on ILSR.org

In 2016, the Illinois Legislature passed the groundbreaking Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) with bipartisan support. The legislation includes strategies to make solar energy more accessible to low and moderate income communities through community solar projects, rooftop solar, and brownfield solar. Through the Illinois Shines program, the legislature created opportunities for citizens to have access to solar energy without putting solar panels on their roofs. FEJA also establishes a state goal for 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Illinois meets three out of four of ILSR’s principles of a good community solar program. The four principles include tangible benefits, flexible ownership, an increase in renewables, and access to all.

In accordance with the Future Energy Jobs Act, the Illinois Power Agency and Illinois Commerce Commission are responsible for creating equitable community solar programs. To do so, the Illinois Power Agency purchases Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from projects and sets prices through a lottery-style Adjustable Block Program. Illinois needs the credits to meet Renewable Portfolio Standard requirements. Illinois Power Agency is to purchase renewable energy credits from an estimated 400 megawatts of community solar (to be developed by 2030).


Watch the top state community solar programs progress in our National Community Solar Programs Tracker.


A Program that Reacts to the Market

The adjustable block program is a state-administered solar incentive program facilitating new photovoltaic distributed generation development and community solar projects through the issuance of renewable energy credits provided in the first 15 years of operation. A “block” is a pre-established amount of capacity available for a certain type of project with set REC prices. The purpose of blocks is to establish a progression of price levels based on the response of the market. Illinois estimates that 1,000,000 RECs will be delivered annually by the end of the 2020-2021 delivery year, demonstrating ILSR’s third principle of a good program, increasing renewables.

The Adjustable Block Program Guidebook provides application and participant requirements, program processes, and guidance for application. Owners of community solar gardens, called “approved vendors,” can be corporations, LLCs, general partnerships, non-profits, or cooperatives, giving the Adjustable Block Program program flexibility of ownership structure.

As of 2019, FEJA generated 200 megawatts of community solar, further advancing the state’s success in renewable energy implementation.

Increasing Access for All

The Illinois Power Agency’s Illinois Solar for All (ISFA) program reserves capacity for individual or community solar projects serving low-income and historically polluted communities that cannot install rooftop solar due to cost, space, or limits in local zoning laws. 25 percent of ISFA’s $12.16 million budget is set aside for environmental justice communities. Community solar subscribers who are income-eligible will only pay up to half of their previous energy bill and have no upfront costs. ISFA provides tangible benefits to subscribers, one of ILSR’s principles for good community solar programs. Subscriptions will be offered to low-income residents in the Summer of 2021.

To direct funds toward communities with historical pollution and energy burdens, Illinois Solar for All has developed an EJScreen tool to evaluate local conditions. It prioritizes environmental justice communities, defined as those that demonstrate a higher risk of exposure to pollution based on environmental and socioeconomic factors. Creating specialized programs for underserved communities addresses ILSR’s fourth principle of a good program, access for all.

Looking forward, environmental advocates and organizers are pushing the State to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would further expand the Illinois Solar For All program in low- and medium-income communities and promote renewable energy jobs.

For more updates, check out our ILSR Illinois archive.

Learn more about community solar in one of these ILSR reports:

Designing Community Solar Programs that Promote Racial and Economic Equity
Minnesota’s Solar Gardens: the Status and Benefits of Community Solar
Beyond Sharing — How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power

 

For podcasts, videos, and more, see ILSR’s community renewable energy archive.


This article was originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

 
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Written By

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

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