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Community Solar in Illinois: A Primer

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Community Solar in Illinois: A Primer

September 20, 2021

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) grew from three years of hard work by environmental advocates, the renewable energy industry, labor unions, environmental justice and equity organizations, business and consumer groups.  Leaders in the Senate, House, and Governor’s office were ultimately able to bridge the needs of these constituencies and negotiate an omnibus clean energy package that received bipartisan support in the state’s legislature, passing the House with a vote of 83-33 and the Senate 37-13.

Chicago, Illinois, a city famously known for its abundance of wind, is steadily making a name for itself in a different renewable energy field.

That’s right — it might be time to change Chicago’s nickname to the “Sunny City”, as the state of Illinois has made big strides in designing equitable community solar programs since 2016. 

Okay, so we’re admittedly unsure if we’re ready to advocate for this name change, but we are certain that Illinois’s community solar future is as bright as any other state in the nation. In fact, in the last two years Illinois has solidified itself as one of the strongest community solar markets in the entire country, with accessible shared solar farms popping up all over the state. We’ll discuss how Illinois established itself as one of the strongest community solar states, and what that means for local residents and businesses today.

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Illinois Community Solar Today

A Historic Piece of Clean Energy Legislation On September 15th, 2021, the Illinois state legislature passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, a groundbreaking energy bill that puts Illinois on the path to 100% clean energy by 2050. The bill reshapes the state’s energy system in many ways, including requiring that 40% of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030. Among other feats, this Act:

  • Immediately allocates funding so that 250 MW of community solar projects from the waitlist (enough energy for roughly 40,000 subscribers) can be constructed in 2022.
  • After that, funding will support about another 150 MWs of community solar projects per year.
  • These developments will allow many thousands more Illinois residents and businesses to benefit from community solar (click here to sign up for an active project today).

In short, this Act is a game-changer for Illinois. Let’s talk through how this historic piece came about and what it means for the future of solar in the state.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) grew from three years of work by environmental and equity advocates to craft a bill that represents the needs of labor groups, environmental justice organizations, members of the solar industry, and more. This bill is a culmination of hundreds of community listening sessions across the state focused on creating legislation that ensures a just transition of the state’s energy system and prioritizes environmental justice communities. The result of that work is a bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support in the state’s legislature, passing the House with a vote of 83-33 and the Senate 37-13.

CEJA commits Illinois — the sixth largest carbon emitter in the country — to 100% carbon-free energy by 2045. This includes requiring that 40% of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030 and 50% by 2040. That’s a big jump from the 9% renewable energy contribution the state touts now. To meet these goals, Illinois will invest in more than 13,000 MW of clean energy, including more than 10,000 MW of utility, rooftop, and community solar.

A study by the Power Bureau estimates that reaching 40% renewable energy by 2030 will create a net benefit of over $1.21 Billion in savings for Illinois consumers between 2021 and 2031. That’s a lot of cash, and it’s a number that’s important to keep in mind when many of the bill’s opponents make note of the average additional cost to households, estimated by Crain’s at between $5-6.57 per month. That’s not to mention the expansion of the Illinois Solar For All program — Illinois’s leading low-income solar program that promises significant savings for participants — which saw its funding increase from $10 million a year to $50 million a year.

The bill brings a lot more than just bill savings to environmental justice communities. Labor groups advocated hard for the investment of $80 million per year in workforce development programs in environmental justice communities to ensure good-paying jobs are available for residents of historically disinvested neighborhoods. The bill also requires utility-scale project developers to form labor agreements with unions on all their projects and creates a “displaced energy worker bill of rights” that provides support to energy workers moving from fossil fuels to clean energy. 

Finally, this bill ensures that environmental justice communities won’t be left behind with the electrification of our transportation systems by investing $80M a year in electric transportation and requiring that 45% of those benefits go to environmental justice and low-income communities. 

With all these labor and justice provisions, it is very clear that this bill goes far beyond building more solar farms and bill savings. That extra effort has earned it the title of “most equitable climate legislation in the nation” from the IL Clean Jobs Coalition. Organizers are celebrating this moment across the state and country — but just for a brief moment, as they quickly will shift their attention towards the implementation of these monumental plans in support of the ongoing fight against climate catastrophe. 

With the passing of this bill, Illinois sets itself on a path towards a brighter future for all of its residents.

Related
The Ultimate Guide to Community Solar

How To Enroll In Community Solar In Illinois

You might be shocked how simple it is for Illinois residents and businesses to enroll in a local community solar program. In fact, you can enroll in community-shared solar in as few as five minutes.

Solstice community solar is available to all ComEd customers in Illinois. There is no cost to join, no cost to cancel, and you’ll earn solar credits applied to your bills for the energy your share of solar produces. You’ll then pay Solstice for those credits, but at a guaranteed 20% discounts compared to what you would have paid ComEd for that power thanks to the power of solar energy! If you’re served by ComEd, you can connect your utility account to solar without putting down your morning cup of coffee. Here’s how:

  1. Create your account on our online platform
  2. Add any properties you’d like to enroll in solar.
  3. Connect your utility account so we can match you to a share of your solar farm.
  4. You’ll need to upload a payment method to be charged for your solar credits at a 20% discount compared to ComEd’s rates.
  5. Sign your contract
    1.  

At this point, you will have successfully reserved your very own share of solar in an Illinois solar farm, which will produce energy on your behalf all year long.

If you live in Illinois but don’t have ComEd as our utility provider, you can likely find alternatives so Solstice in your area through a simple Google Search. We wish you the best of luck! Every household that goes solar supports more clean energy in their grid and helps promote a more affordable energy future for themselves and their neighbors.

A Look Back: How Illinois Community Solar Got Here

Community-shared solar was welcomed into the state of Illinois in 2016 when the Illinois legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). FEJA was a groundbreaking energy policy. Its provisions included investing rate-payer funds in the advancement of renewables in the state, creating thousands of clean energy jobs, and establishing opportunities for low-income communities to benefit from renewable energy, such as Illinois’ Solar For All program. 

This legislation required the Illinois Power Association to support the development of 3,000 MW of solar, with 400 MW of that dedicated to community solar, through 2030. That’s enough total solar energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes, and enough community solar to offset about 60,000 households’ worth of power. This set Illinois on a promising path toward allowing residents to transition away from fossil fuels. 

Community solar in low-income and environmental justice communities was set up to get another level of support through the Solar For All program, which aimed to make solar work for more than just wealthy Illinoisans by ensuring that low-income participants only have to pay for up to 50% of the value of the energy generated by their solar system. All in all, FEJA served as a shining, bipartisan example of a state revamping its energy system to combat the climate crisis.

Did you know?
Illinois' Solar For All Program Is a Big Deal. Seriously.

In 2018, Illinois approved its first community solar projects through a lottery system called the Adjustable Block Program. Today, the program has supported more than 1,000 MW of utility-scale solar and more than 300 MW of community solar. That’s a massive improvement for a state that, prior to FEJA being passed in 2016, only had 55 MW of installed solar. 

This bill gave thousands of Illinoisans the chance to support renewable energy while saving some money on their energy bills, which earned the state early recognition. In fact, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council placed Illinois alongside other clean energy leaders like Massachusetts, Colorado, and New Jersey when it graded every state’s community solar program in 2019.

Illinois’ impressive solar growth has been inspired in part by developers flooding the state with projects to make use of its new program–so many that the Illinois Power Association initially received nearly ten times more applications than they could award. Thus, it was clear from the outset that community solar was ready for Illinois, even if Illinois wasn’t quite ready for all that community solar. 

This level of competition turned out to be indicative of a trend for community solar in Illinois, as it has only been able to fund a subset of the hundreds of projects that have applied for development. The recent Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, however, will help the state overcome delays and move projects from the waitlist into development.

Community solar development under the much smaller Solar for All program saw only eight low-income community solar projects reach development in the program’s first two years. Due to cost spikes caused by utilities, community solar has historically struggled to effectively reach the city of Chicago or the numerous environmental justice communities on its South Side. In partnership with solar developer ENGIE, Solstice is changing that. Our four community solar projects in Northern Illinois serve all customers of ComEd, including both homeowners and renters in Chicago. The truth is, community solar is meant to serve all Americans. We’re proud to ensure that’s happening in one of America’s largest cities.

Illinois residents can join community solar. Sign up in 5 minutes!

Enroll in Illinois community solar or learn more by clicking the button below:

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