August 8, 2018 Read More →

In Illinois coal country, a town takes up solar

Belleville News-Democrat:

Chad Easton, Marissa’s new 37-year-old mayor, has found himself in the unlikely position of promoting solar energy as a way to help the former coal community cope with high power costs.

Plans call for construction of two solar farms, one 5 acres and one 11 acres, on village property on the west edge of town. Officials expect them to eventually provide all the electricity for the wastewater-treatment plant and most of it for other village buildings, saving thousands of dollars a year.

Officials also hope residents of Marissa’s 818 homes will consider buying electricity generated by the solar farms, becoming part of a solar boom in Illinois and possibly saving money on utility bills.

The two village projects are separate from a 26-acre solar farm proposed by Colorado-based Microgrid Energy on private property on the east edge of town. Its purpose would be adding electricity to the Illinois power grid through the state’s new community solar program.

Microgrid has applied for a special-use permit from the village.

Easton is the first Marissa mayor in decades without a coal-mining background.  The decline of coal hit Marissa hard. Its population has dropped from a peak of 2,568 in 1980 to an estimated 1,836 in 2016. Decreases in sales, income and property tax revenue have forced village officials to tighten their budgetary belt, Clerk Laumbattus said.

Last year, Mayor Cross asked Easton — then a new trustee and chairman of the utilities committee — to look into possible ways to save on electricity. Power bills were running $7,000 to $10,000 a month at the wastewater-treatment plant alone. The board negotiated with a new supplier, lowering its rate from 5.2 to 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

StraightUp and SHINE plan to start construction on the 5-acre solar farm on Marissa village property this year. By next spring, officials expect it to be generating 40 percent of electricity for the wastewater-treatment plant at a cost of 4 cents per kilowatt hour, a rate locked in for 25 years.

The adjacent 11-acre solar farm is expected provide the plant’s remaining 60 percent and most of the electricity for other village buildings. Power also would be available for purchase by any Ameren customer.

More: Coal was king in this Illinois town for generations. A young mayor is betting on solar.

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