Altamont is on its way to providing a little more eco-friendly power by mid-July.
The city supplies electric customers by purchasing bulk electrical power from the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency, a non-for-profit joint action agency, according to IMEA Director of Government Affairs Staci Wilson. IMEA serves 32 municipalities throughout Illinois.
Altamont City Clerk and Treasurer Sarah Steven said the city provides electrical service to 1,345 customers.
Wilson said IMEA does not own or operate any transmission lines. She said IMEA contracts with investor owned utilities to use their wires to get the majority of our power from generating resources to member power distribution points. IMEA utilizes Ameren power lines in order to get power to Altamont.
“In order to provide reliable and economical bulk power to our 32 members, we have an extensive portfolio of power supply resources via ownership and contracts,” Wilson said. “The Altamont solar array will now be one piece of that portfolio.”
“This is a 500 kilowatt solar plant,” Wilson said about the Sol Systems solar array. “It will have an expected annual production of 935,000 kilowatt hours, enough to provide power for approximately 100 Altamont residential customers.”
Wilson said the cost of building the solar array project is the responsibility of developer Sol Systems, which contracted GRNE Solar to purchase and install the Altamont array.
Charles Johnson works for GRNE Solar of Illinois, which has offices in Palatine and Indianapolis.
“We have crews from Illinois and Indianapolis working on this project,” Johnson said.
Johnson said GRNE Solar started the solar panel installation five weeks ago. He said now that the panels are installed extensive testing is required before they can integrate the solar array into the Altamont power system.
“The capital expense of Altamont’s array is 100% funded by the developer, Sol Systems because they can take advantage of the tax incentives that neither IMEA nor Altamont are eligible for,” Wilson said. “Sol Systems, the developer, sells the power to IMEA under a power purchase agreement for up to 20 years. IMEA has the right to purchase the solar plant outright after 7 years of operation.”
She said GRNE Solar recently installed 1,674 solar panels for developer Sol Systems on three acres of of city-owned property northwest of Altamont. The array is located close to four power generators housed by the city to produce power when power can’t be delivered through the Ameren lines.
“Altamont was fortunate enough to have acreage available to host the array,” Sarah Steven said.
“Each of our member communities, owns and operates its own electric distribution system,” Wilson said. “And each community is represented on IMEA’s Board of Directors. In order to provide reliable and economical bulk power to our 32 members.”
Representing Altamont on the IMEA Board of Directors is former Altamont Mayor Larry Taylor. Taylor said the board meets at least once a month in Springfield.
There are a total of 32 municipalities throughout the state of Illinois operating municipal electric systems. They include Altamont, Breeze, Cairo, Carmi, Chatham, Farmer City, Freeburg, Highland, Marshall, Metropolis, Oglesby, Princeton, Red Bud, Rock Falls, St. Charles, Waterloo, Bethany, Bushnell, Carlyle, Casey, Fairfield, Flora, Greenup, Ladd, Mascoutah, Naperville, Peru, Rantoul, Riverton, Roodhouse, Sullivan, and Winnetka.
“For legal reasons, the system had to be set up on city-owned property,” Taylor said.
Taylor said two locations were considered in a proposal the city sent IMEA in July of 2018 for the placement of the solar array, both on city-owned property. He said one option was to place the array adjacent to the waste management plant or next to the power generator plant northwest of Altamont. He said both city-owned properties considered for the project were in areas where light was not obstructed to the ground.
“The power generated by the solar system in Altamont stays in Altamont,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he expects the system to start generating power by the middle of July. He said panel installation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything seems to be going okay. We will have couple of tests we’ll need to make,” Taylor said. “To be sure all of the connections are good.”
Altamont will receive a portion of their overall power from the solar array with the balance of power coming to Altamont the traditional way from IMEA through Ameren lines. All power generated by the Altamont solar power array will be used by the city of Altamont.
“Solar power is used as it is generated,” Wilson said about the Altamont system. “Therefore, all of the power will be used by the city.”
Taylor said solar array systems were installed in St. Charles and Urbana last year. He said Altamont and Rock Falls are on the same timeline this year while Naperville solar arrays should be generating power by year’s end. He said Naperville will get their solar energy from arrays located in 4 separate locations around the city.
IMEA’s first solar system demonstration project site was built in Rantoul.
Wilson said the solar array would be directly interconnected to the Altamont’s power distribution system.
“The real advantage to all of this is having solar power for the city of Altamont,” Taylor said.