By Mary McIntyre
Lake County News-Sun | September, 4, 2020
The Zion power grid, which once distributed energy from a nuclear plant on the city’s lakefront, may soon carry solar-generated power to local homes.
The City Council voted at its last meeting to approve a special use permit for a solar station to be built on about 10 acres of a former landfill on 17th Street.
“This has been a long time coming,” Commissioner Christopher Fischer said at the meeting. “We’ve been waiting for the state to advance the program. I’m looking forward to seeing it get built.”
Construction on the solar project could begin as early as the spring, according to Chad Chahbazi, vice-president of project development at Cenergy, the company building the solar station.
One of the reasons Cenergy chose Zion for the project, Chahbazi said, was its well-developed network of power lines and stations, also referred to as a “power grid.”
“There’s better grid infrastructure” in Zion compared to the surrounding communities, he said. The lines used to carry energy from the Zion nuclear plant, which stopped production in 1997.
Zion residents will benefit from the advanced grid once the solar facility is up and running, Chahbazi said, because it will have less power outages.
During times of maximum energy use in summer, he said, the solar station will be at its peak energy-producing level, he said.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency initially issued a its permit for the Zion 2.43-megawatt solar station in 2018. The permit allowing the solar station atop a former landfill was the first of its kind issued by the IEPA.
The Future Energy Jobs Act, a state law passed in 2016, created state incentives for such projects.
According to an IEPA press release announcing Zion’s permit back in 2018, “One of the goals of FEJA is to incentivize development of solar power on brownfield properties, returning the properties to productive use and helping Illinois reach its renewable energy goals,”
Although the permit was granted back in 2018, the solar station has yet to be built.
Many similar projects have been proposed since Zion was awarded its permit, Chahbazi said. He said the incentives Illinois provides, called solar renewable energy credits, were highly sought after.
“It was a very popular program,” Chahbazi said.
There was so much competition for these credits that the Illinois Power Agency could not grant them to all potential projects. The agency held a lottery last spring to choose which projects could receive the credits.
“Unfortunately, Zion was not selected,” Chahbazi said. He added, however, “It’s conceivable this project will be built in late spring or early summer.”
It will take about six months to build, he said.
The project will have about 5,000 solar panels, which will be about 6 feet tall and power about 500 homes, Chahbazi said. It will cost about $5 million.
City Administrator Dave Knabel said the solar station will make a “quiet neighbor,” and is a good use for the former landfill. “It’s the best use you could possibly have for a property like that,” he said.