GALENA, Ill. – Who says a small town can’t use solar power to cut the energy costs of its wastewater treatment plant in half? This town of 3,429 in the northwest corner of Illinois has proven it can be done – albeit with a little help from its friends.
City officials worked with Eagle Point Solar, their local utility and other partners to plan and develop a 368-kilowatt solar array that will provide about 480,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and avoid 920,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year for the projected 40-year life of the system. Installation began with a ground-breaking ceremony on Monday and is expected to be complete by August.
City Engineer Andy Lewis said the project wouldn’t have been possible without a $908,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy community foundation, which will pay 60 percent of the project cost, estimated at just over $1.2 million.
“The grant was essential to even consider a project like this,” Lewis said. “That’s the largest grant Illinois Clean Energy has ever awarded for a renewable energy project of this type.”
According to its web site, “the foundation exists to improve energy efficiency, advance the development of renewable energy resources and protect natural areas for people in communities all across Illinois.” It was founded in 1999 with a $225 million endowment from Commonwealth Edison, based in Chicago.
Galena officials expect the system to return the city’s investment in about seven years, saving an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 per year in electricity costs, which in recent years have been totaling about $120,000 per year.
“This wastewater treatment facility is the perfect application for this type of project because all the energy is going to be used right here,” said Barry Shear, CEO of Eagle Point Solar. The power generated by the solar panels will go into an on-site interconnection facility constructed by Jo-Carroll Energy, the regional electric cooperative that resells electricity supplied by Dairyland Power of La Crosse, Wis.
The array of 1,443 American-made photovoltaic solar panels will take a crew of six or seven workers about eight weeks to install, weather permitting, according to Clark Zivojnovich, general manager at Eagle Point Solar.
Shear said strong cooperation between the city, the solar contractor and the two utilities helped make the project possible. “That’s all too rare,” said Shear, who has been fighting the Iowa Utility Board and Alliant Energy over the use of power purchase agreements in the neighboring state of Iowa.
Jesse Shekleton, Jo-Carroll Energy manager of electric operations, said utilities in Illinois are required to include renewable energy as a certain percentage of their portfolio, and the Galena project will help them meet those requirements.
“As far as the benefits (to power companies), there are some arguable points you’ll hear probably from both sides – pros and cons,” said Shekleton. “But, I think environmental stewardship is first and foremost on everyone’s mind.”
Wisconsin-based Strand Associates also provided engineering and design work for the project.