The status of bringing solar power, community solar and its related economic and environmental justice benefits to Oak Park, River Forest and the rest of Illinois is still in the early stages.
The Future Energy Jobs Bill, including the Solar For All Illinois program, signed into law last Dec. 7, will take effect on June 1, 2017. But details of the program’s design and management are still being discussed among a recently formed working group.
The primary milestones in developing the programs fall to the Illinois Power Agency, which must submit a plan by June 29, and the Illinois Commerce Commission, which must rule on the plan by Sept. 29. The likely outcome is that there will be no active program before 2018. Some of the issues to be worked out include:
- Which entity will act as the overall program administrator? How will community solar project developers work within this framework?
- How will customers in community solar be recruited, especially for the low-moderate income Solar For All Illinois Program? How will community groups participate, and what consumer protection measures will be established?
- How will training for installers work beyond what will be offered by ComEd? What training will be offered for the non-installation part of the program?
- Will the utility side of the program be ready for 2018, specifically the account coordination between community solar and the customer, as well as sufficient resources for engineering studies of grid impact?
This does not mean that program progress isn’t happening. At present, around $200 million is available from the Renewable Energy Resource Fund (RERF) to jumpstart solar programs. However, unlike the Future Energy Jobs Bill legislation, which prevents funding from being used for anything else, the RERF can be used by the General Assembly for plugging holes in the budget. A concerted advocacy effort is trying to prevent that from happening.
Beyond that, there is a great need in 2017 for general education, awareness and outreach to reach the public on the program opportunities.
Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) will be conducting a wide range of events in the coming months to get the public ready. Topics include how solar energy works in our electrical grid, how electric bills provide information on going solar, how to choose between rooftop and community solar and the impact of going solar on the community, the state and the wider world. SGA will continue to work with large local electricity users on bigger, utility-scale solar participation, as well as houses of worship and non-profit organizations for potential community scale projects.
By Mark Burger, solar consultant to PlanItGreen