ST. CHARLES – A new solar plant on St. Charles' east side has brought a new clean source of electricity to St. Charles, at least on sunny days.
The solar plant is a demonstration project of the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency, which selected St. Charles as the host. The project's purpose to determine how the solar plant can contribute to a city's electric distribution system.
“St. Charles presented a well-vetted proposal supported by the City Council,” said Staci Wilson, director of governmental affairs for IMEA, the city's wholesale power supplier.
Also helping St. Charles land the project was having city-owned acreage for an easement suitable for the solar plant.
“From IMEA's standpoint, all the pieces were in place,” said Tom Bruhl, St. Charles electric services manager.
Covering three acres at 850 Equity Drive – adjacent to the East Side Sports Complex – the plant features a ground-mounted solar panel array.
The solar power the plant generates goes into the city's electric grid, supplementing the energy IMEA supplies St. Charles from other sources.
“[IMEA is] looking more at clean energy, renewable energy,” Wilson said. “It's giving us on-the- ground experience so we can look to the future as having it part of our portfolio. We already have wind projects – a natural step is solar.”
For the city, taking part in the solar plant project is an opportunity to demonstrate its own commitment to renewable energy, Bruhl said.
The solar plant was constructed by a private developer, Altorfer Caterpillar, with the general contractor ITG Construction Services. It features 4,824 solar panels produced in the U.S. Each panel is 2 feet by 4 feet and 1/4-inch thick and weighs 26.5 pounds.
The developer will maintain the facility and sell the power it generates to the IMEA, which has the option to buy the plant after 20 years.
City utility staff can monitor the solar plant's functioning and energy output online. Each day's total output is different. It depends on how much the sun shines, Bruhl said.
IMEA and city officials expect the solar plant will generate approximately 650,000 kilowatts per year, the equivalent of energy for about 70 homes.
While that is a small part of the power used by the city's more than 13,000 homes, “it still is a zero carbon emitting component, and every little bit counts,” Bruhl said.
The solar project is in keeping with the city's commitment to the environment, said Lisa Garhan, St. Charles communications division manager.
“This is one of the ways we are putting that forward,” Garhan said.
Another way is installing no-mow fescue grass on the outside of the fence surrounding the plant, which will help with stormwater management. The developer planted the same type of grass around the solar panels.
Adjacent to the solar plant, work is progressing on a new electrical substation to serve the southeast area of the city. A public open house for the solar plant is planned after work on the substation is finished, likely this summer.