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CHAMPAIGN — Only five area "community solar" projects were big winners in Wednesday's Illinois Power Agency lottery in Chicago, where about 10 percent of nearly 1,000 proposals snagged the renewable-energy credits made possible by the Future Energy Jobs Act.

In the larger-community category — mostly 2-megawatt projects that will generate electricity Illinoisans likely can buy through subscriptions — only one Champaign County project was chosen: a 2-megawatt farm proposed by Forefront Power near Sidney.

According to power agency Director Anthony Star, 2-megawatt solar farms typically use about 15 to 20 acres of land.

"Community solar" projects provide access to solar power to residents who can't put arrays on their roofs.

Also making the cut on Wednesday were three community solar projects in Vermilion County — one in a field outside Ridge Farm, another at the former GM Foundry site in Tilton and a third in a field near the Danville Correctional Center — as well as one in Iroquois County on the outskirts of Watseka's southwest side.

Not a part of the power agency's lottery were another 740 "large distributed generation" projects that were also awarded. These projects, which generally consist of smaller arrays at businesses or homes, do not connect directly to the power grid and offer subscriptions. Instead, Star said, they are designed to offset electricity use where they are located, like the one at Monticello Middle School — one of about 70 approved in Champaign and surrounding counties.

Superintendent Vic Zimmerman called the proposed 840-kilowatt project on a 4.9-acre grassy area behind the middle school a "behind the meter" solar array.

"The energy that is gathered from the solar panels will go right into the school and be used," he said.

Clean Energy Design will build the solar array. Then, Zimmerman said, the district will lease the property to Clean Energy, which will build the solar array and charge the district for the energy to offset its costs for the panels. That will result in the district cutting its power bill in half over the next 20 years.

The savings, he said, is estimated at $1.1 million over 25 years.

Zimmerman said he's happy to know the project has been approved, although the school board still has details to work out with Clean Energy.

"If we can do anything to save money for our district, and ultimately the taxpayers, that's a good thing," he said.

Next, all projects approved by the state power agency move to the Illinois Commerce Commission for approval.

Star said his agency tried to be vigilant about making sure the approved projects are far enough along that they will happen, but if they don't, some of the hundreds that are now on a waiting list could get bumped up.

Either way, thousands of solar arrays should eventually be built, Star said.

"So it's a major step forward," he said.

Local lottery winners

The following community solar projects were among 34 chosen by in the Illinois Power Agency's lottery for renewable-energy credits. These are larger solar projects that will have subscribers who buy the power generated.

Project/developerSize (kilowatts)Site address
Danville Foundry Holdings LLC2,000I-74 and G Street (former GM Foundry site), Tilton
Iroquois Solar 1b LLC2,0001910 County Road 1980 E, Watseka
Ridge Farm 12,000150 North Road, Ridge Farm
FEJA Wolf/Wertz site 22,0002200 County Road 1000 N, Sidney
Vermilion Solar 1 LLC2,0003800 E. Main St., Danville