Sunshine may be free, but the equipment that turns it into usable energy can be pricey.
That’s why Cook County is embarking on a pilot program to bring so-called “community solar” to more than a dozen sites around the county.
Community solar projects allow members, including renters, to get power by plugging into a solar power system installed at a larger building nearby, such as a school or church.
“This is critical for probably 80 percent of Cook County’s population because, for one reason or another, they can’t take advantage of solar energy right now,” said Deborah Stone, head of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control.
The department, along with other groups in the county, announced on Monday the selection of more than a dozen sites to study and establish community-shared solar power. The program is being funded with a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
From Evanston to Chicago Heights, the sites include a variety of properties, from a community college to apartments to a courthouse.
“Anybody in the community can subscribe and not only support clean energy and a better environment but also get the pocketbook savings that renewable energy provides,” Stone said.
The goal of the pilot program is to get at least 30,000 Cook County residents using solar power in the next five years, according to the county.
In rolling out the program, Cook County is working with the nonprofits Elevate Energy and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, ComEd, the City of Chicago and technical consultant West Monroe Partners.
Over The Rainbow Association’s Executive Director Eric Huffman said reducing energy costs has a strong appeal. The Evanston-based group owns and manages 10 apartment communities for people with physical impairments.
“We grew interested in community solar because we like the fact that it can reduce our energy costs, both for us as a non-profit with a tight budget and for our residents who are mostly low income,” Huffman said.
The sites in the pilot program are:
- Hill Arboretum Apartments, an Over The Rainbow Association property, 2040 Brown Ave., Evanston;
- Des Plaines-Lake Landfill, a property of the Archdiocese of Chicago, 9800 W. Central Road, Des Plaines;
- Prairie State College, 202 S. Halsted St., Chicago Heights;
- United Airlines Training and Data Center, 1200 E. Algonquin Road, Des Plaines;
- Altgeld Gardens Homes, a property of the Chicago Housing Authority - Block 16, 134th St and Corliss Ave., Chicago;
- CTA Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility, 3701 W. Oakton St., Skokie;
- Housing Authority of Cook County vacant land in Chicago Heights;
- Rich East High School, 300 Sauk Trail, Park Forest;
- Taft High School, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago;
- Markham Courthouse, 16501 S. Kedzie Ave., Markham;
- 3057 N. Rockwell St., a Rockwell Properties, LLC commercial/industrial redevelopment in Chicago;
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 1175 Grove St., Glenview;
- 4150 N Knox Ave., a new construction industrial development from WBS Equities in Chicago;
- Warren Park Field House, a Chicago Park District facility at 6601 N. Western Ave., Chicago;
- Theaster Gates’ Studio and Residence, HQ of Rebuild Foundation, 7200 S. Kimbark Ave., Chicago
Michael Puente covers Cook County and Northwest Indiana for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @MikePuenteNews.