Sangamon County solar plant to provide energy throughout Illinois, region

·3 min read
Bob Ducker, a Sierra Club supporter, inspects the electrical components under the solar panels of the city's newly completed solar farm before its official unveiling Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. [Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register]
Bob Ducker, a Sierra Club supporter, inspects the electrical components under the solar panels of the city's newly completed solar farm before its official unveiling Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. [Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register]

In a week when state politicians touted clean energy programs, Sangamon County is being seen as a major future generator of solar power.

The Double Black Diamond Solar Project, a 4,100-acre, solar panel plant, is set to be constructed just outside of Waverly. Boston-based Swift Current Energy, which will own and operate the project, said the plant could power 85,000 homes throughout the state. It will be on land in both Sangamon and Morgan counties.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday in a press release that power from the new plant will help get all of Chicago's facilities on renewable energy by 2025.

With construction set to begin later this year, crops will need to be harvested prior to the groundbreaking, said Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance CEO and President Ryan McCrady.

In addition to the construction jobs, he said 15 permanent jobs will be created once construction is done.

"Having multiple sources of electricity and access to renewable energy helps us attract businesses," McCrady said.

Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter, in Monday's release, added that the plant will be a key source of tax revenue, good for local schools and the general community.

Last November, the Sangamon County Board approved the project in a 21-4 vote despite some resistance from environmentalists and farmers.

Speaking before the board during the Nov. 9 meeting, project manager Daniel Sheehan said the plant would create nearly 1,000 jobs during construction – drawing from union labor as much as possible – and tax revenue exceeding $71 million over its 35-year lifetime.

Additionally, conversations were ongoing for planting native grass species underneath the solar panels. This practice is known as agrivoltaics, where land has a combined use for agriculture and solar energy generation, and proponents say it can benefit both parties.

Opposition, however, still came from those who said it would take away prime farmland and believed there were better locations to be chosen.

Chicago's agreement with electric supplier Constellation, which is representing Swift Current Energy, is a five-year deal beginning this January. Lightfoot said the deal stipulates that major energy users in the city such as airports and the Harold Washington Library Center will be at least partially-powered by the local, 593-megawatt plant – which is expected to be one of the largest solar projects in the state to date.

Senate Democrats hailed the deal as a continuation of the Clean and Equitable Jobs Act passed by Gov. JB Pritzker in September 2021, which plans to eliminate 100% of carbon emissions from the energy sector by 2045.

More news:Massive clean energy bill becomes law, investing billions in renewable, nuclear sectors

“The landmark Clean Energy and Jobs Act put Illinois on the path to a greener, more sustainable future while also prioritizing jobs and equity,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch in Monday's statement. “I’m proud to see Chicago take significant steps to put consumers and a diversified workforce at the forefront of this new power supply project. Together we continue to make Illinois a leader in the clean energy revolution.”

Contact Patrick Keck: 312-549-9340, pkeck@gannett.com, twitter.com/@pkeckreporter. Royale Bonds contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Sangamon County solar plant to provide energy to Illinois and region