The Hill Arboretum Apartments in Evanston is one of 15 pilot sites in Cook County selected for a test of community shared solar power. The program is funded by a $1.2 million federal grant administered by the county's Department of Environmental Control. The apartment complex, at 2040 Brown Ave., is operated by the Over the Rainbow Association, a non-profit that provides housing for people with physical disabilities. The other sites include a landfill in Des Plaines, the CTA maintenance facility in Skokie, a church in Glenview and a courthouse in Markham.
“We grew interested in community solar because we like the fact that it can reduce energy costs both for us as a non-profit with a tight budget and for our residents who are mostly low income,” Over The Rainbow Association’s Executive Director Eric Huffman said. “It’s our privilege to get the opportunity through this pilot to be part of an innovative project that promotes sustainability and can help lead the way in Cook County.”
County officials say community shared solar-electric systems provide power and/or financial benefits to multiple community members, expanding access to solar power for renters, condominium owners, those with shaded roofs and those who choose not to install a residential system on their home for financial or other reasons.
Cook County’s partners include nonprofits Elevate Energy and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, ComEd, the City of Chicago, and technical consultant West Monroe Partners. The grant will create a solar energy case study and engineering assessment for each site to help property owners enter the community solar market.
“Community solar is an exciting concept that can have a positive impact on the environment and on County residents’ pocketbooks,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. “This project will open up the benefits of solar energy to wider groups of the population that otherwise would not be able to afford it.”
“We are excited at the promise of community solar to advance access and equity in renewable energy development,” said Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate Energy. “This is especially critical in Cook County, where as many as 75 percent of households and businesses cannot currently install solar on their rooftops. These sites will likely represent the first community solar projects in the region and will serve as roadmaps for many more projects in the future.”
The goal is to facilitate access to solar power in the next five years for at least 30,000 Cook County residents who would not otherwise be able to benefit from the clean and renewal source of electricity.
While the sites will need to pursue actual solar installation as separate efforts, economic business cases developed for each site through the project will serve as a model for many different building types across the County to adopt community solar.
The case studies and engineering assessments will be used as templates for other property owners who may want to enter into the community solar market.