Community Solar Program incentivizes renewable energy use for Evanston residents

A diagram that shows step one as the solar panels absorbing sun energy, step two as solar energy running through power towers and into homes and step three as an electric bill with the word credit in green written on it.

Courtesy of MC Squared Energy Services LLC

This diagram shows how Evanston’s Community Solar Program will bring renewable solar energy availability to Evanston residents. The Community Solar Program provides Evanston residents an opportunity to utilize renewable energy with cost efficiency.

Iris Swarthout, Reporter

Evanston’s Community Solar Program, a cheaper alternative to other available renewable energy sources, has been open for resident subscriptions since May 2021. 

The program aligns with the goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan, according to Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th).  

The Evanston Climate Action Plan was established in 2008 with the goal of a 13-percent carbon emission reduction by 2012. The second version of the plan, the Livability Plan, passed in 2014 and raised the bar to a 20-percent carbon emission reduction by 2016. The most recent version of the plan, created in 2018, is the Climate Action Resilience Plan, which aims to reach zero carbon emissions in Evanston by 2050.

The recently incorporated Community Solar Program not only aligns with the goals of CARP, but also is a product of a larger program encompassing 270 municipalities in Northeastern Illinois: the Community Solar Clearinghouse Solution Program.

Mark Pruitt, principal of consulting firm The Power Bureau, has advised Evanston on a few of its renewable energy programs, including the Community Solar Program. He said his work with CS2 started before the program reached Evanston. 

“We placed subscriptions to the first Community Solar Project in Elgin, Illinois,” Pruitt said. “Since then, we have worked with municipalities (in Northeastern Illinois) to provide community solar subscriptions to their residents.” 

He added that Community Solar is more well-equipped for a certain population of Illinois residents, specifically renters or homeowners who do not have the power or capabilities to deploy solar power themselves. 

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and energy provider Soltage partnered with Evanston to make the Community Solar Program more accessible for community members, according to the city’s website.  

“The Power Bureau began working with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to build a program that would allow and simplify the Community Solar subscription process for customers,” Pruitt said. “Then (Metropolitan Mayor’s Caucus), a retail energy supplier, was retained by my firm to assist with the other mechanical functions of the program.”

Kumar Jensen, chief sustainability and resilience officer, said solar installations through the Community Solar Program are not only for residents, but also for small businesses in the community.  

“A resident or a small commercial property gets 20 percent off the supply portion of their electric bill,” Jensen said. “And then they get to say that they’re using 100 percent renewable energy without having to install solar on their home or their building.”

The Community Solar Program also caters to residents and businesses who are suffering financial hardship. Joel Freeman, project manager at Grumman/Butkus Associates said low-income residents are able to take part in the program with 100 percent of their electricity bills covered after program sign-up. 

Additional forms of renewable energy may bring the Climate Action Plan’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 well within reach, though maxing out on rooftop solar locally will only bring the project so far, Nieuwsma said.

He added that energy generation from the grid is necessary for achieving the Climate Action and Resilience Plan’s ultimate goal. Nieuwsma said offshore wind energy might be a viable option for doing so. 

“There’s a very strong economic development argument to be made for getting the offshore wind industry started in Chicago for at least our portion of the Great Lakes,” Nieuwsma said. “It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”

While offshore wind energy is a promising renewable energy resource, Jensen said for now, solar energy seems to be the most economically viable option. 

“It’s just the most available technology,” Jensen said. “Residents and businesses find (the Community Solar Program) to be an attractive investment as well as one that aligns with the city goals of being carbon neutral by 2050.”

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Twitter: @iris41416999

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