Chicago IL | by Tim Montague, Solar Expert, Continental Electrical Construction Co. |
“Enough solar to power 100,000 homes is coming to a rooftop, field or farm near you in Illinois!”
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On January 30th, 2019 hundreds of megawatts of renewable energy credits went on the market as part of FEJA (Future Energy Jobs Act) that is fueling the adoption of 2800 MW of solar PV in Illinois between now and 2022. Individual project hosts/owners, solar installers and solar developers are furiously filing their applications with the Adjustable Block Program (the “Program”), otherwise known as Illinois Shines. You can see a live accounting of the project/REC applications being filed here.

Rooftop Solar Array at Continental in Oak Brook IL. CECCo is the largest solar installer in Illinois

Illinois Shines incentivizes wide adoption distributed solar (rooftop, ground mount and small utility scale community solar) in Illinois. The Program fuels 666 megawatts of rooftop and ground mount solar construction in Illinois which is enough solar to power 100,000 homes. This translates into $6.5 billion in construction projects which means jobs and energy savings for residents and business owners across the state.

The initial application period closes on Feb. 13th and project owners/developers and other industry professionals are waiting with baited breath to learn which projects will win cash incentives known as Renewable Energy Credits or “RECs.” In order to jump-start the market, these incentives will pay one-third to one-half of a project’s cost, paid out over 5 years for commercial/industrial projects or paid upfront in the case of residential solar. Winning or losing RECs can make or break a project. The Program administrator, Inclime, has 45 days to process the applications and determine next steps.

The Program and Lottery Explained
The ABP Program consists of four blocks: block one is 222 megawatts; block two is 222 megawatts; and block three is 55.5 MW. Block four is a “discretionary” block of 166.5 megawatts. Block four will be used to target specific sectors of the industry that may need more incentives (like commercial rooftop or community solar). The four blocks launched in 2019 add up to 666 megawatts, enough solar to power 100,000 homes.

Many people have started referring to the Program as a lottery. This is because if block one fills up with more than 200 percent of applications, it triggers a randomized lottery selection process. The RECs are strongest in block 1 and decline by 4 percent with each subsequent block.

The table below shows that each block of the Program is divided into three sub-groups: Small DG (<25 kW including residential and small commercial projects), Large DG (25 kW- 2,000 kW AC), and Community Solar (up to 2,000 kW AC). The community solar program is the most competitive with perhaps ten-fold the number of project applications in the pipeline compared to the number of RECs available. This means community solar will likely face a lottery process. The IPA has published a Program Guide which explains the Program and lottery in detail.

Illinois Power Agency ABP Program Guide page 5: REC allocation by utility and project size.

Another twist to the Program is the distribution of RECs across Ameren, MidAmerican and ComEd utility territories. ComEd territory will command 70 percent of all RECs while Ameren and MidAmerican combined will receive and distribute 30 percent of these incentives. The ComEd alotment is disproportionately large because the population living in ComEd territory is much larger than in western, central and southern IL where MidAmerican and Ameren preside.

This is tough on the community solar developers who have gravitated to Central and Southern Illinois where the solar resource is greater and land is cheaper to lease. The application portal shows that as of this writing (Feb 2, 2019), 160 MW of community solar applications have been filed for a total pool of 66 MW (in Ameren/MidAmerican territory) and there are still 11 more calendar days for applications to be accepted.

Continental will continue to provide regular updates on the burgeoning solar market in Illinois. If you haven’t started planning your solar project yet, don’t be discouraged. There are future incentives yet to be rolled out so contact your solar installer today and start putting together an interconnection application with the relevant utility so that you are ready to apply into the Program at the next opportunity. The IPA isn’t revealing just when that will be, but we expect it to be sometime in early 2020.

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About the author: Tim Montague, M.S., is a solar PV expert. He works with commercial, industrial, government, nonprofit and campus clients across Illinois to help them achieve their energy conservation and sustainability goals through solar power and battery storage solutions. Continental has installed 23 megawatts of solar PV in Illinois and the Midwest to date, including Illinois’ two largest rooftop arrays: the 2.9 MW IKEA Distribution Center in Joliet and 3.5 MW rooftop array for Magid Glove in Romeoville, IL.

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