Big solar news from Illinois last week. The Wanxiang America Corporation held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new $12.5 million, 40,000 sq ft solar module plant in the town of Rockford. It’s yet another example of how product follows policy. Of how manufacturing follows markets. Of how strong solar programs beget new jobs. And of how the race is very much underway to establish new centers of clean energy leadership around the country.
Illinois Governor Quinn attended the ceremony after having signed the state’s ‘solar ramp up’ bill, HB6202, into law that morning. The ramp-up sets Illinois on a clear path to building 750 MW of solar energy by 2016. That kind of commitment to solar is enough to turn the heads of major manufacturers who want assurance that their investment in new factories is going to be located advantageously close to market demand. And even though it’s a relative newcomer to our nation’s solar market, Illinois’ strong solar policies have sent a clear signal to global industry that the state is open for business.
To add frosting to the cake and send Rockford officials into political heaven, Wanxiang solar has also partnered with Chicago-based New Generation Power to start building projects. The two companies have announced plans to build a system of up to 62 MWs near the airport, a project that received $4 million in state ARRA funds. New Generation will construct the first 10 MW in 2011. While manufacturing jobs often get the headlines, about 75 percent of solar’s job creation opportunity actually lies in this kind of project development and installation. Given the state’s new solar requirement, Illinois can expect many more such local job creating projects to come.
Nearly every state we come across would welcome those new green jobs. Policymakers would be wise to take notes from the Illinois solar policy playbook.
Gov. Quinn at the Wanxiang Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, Rockford IL
Don’t just think sunny deserts, palm trees and cacti when you think solar. Think Twin Towers and corn fields. That’s right: Solar is making its way into the mainstream in the Midwest.
Illinois is rolling forward with aggressive new targets for green energy. 2007 saw the creation of the state’s first renewable energy standard: 25% by 2025. Last year the RES was expanded to cover more utilities and added a solar carve-out: 6% of the RES to come from PV by 2015. That’s a whopping 750 MW of solar, an aggressive initial target for a state that currently has less than 1 MW deployed.
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, new energy markets take time to develop. The bill that just passed (HB 6202) helps Illinois avoid a 750 MW solar cliff in 2015 by establishing interim annual targets starting in 2012. The new solar targets will require approximately 40, 100 and 180 megawatts of new solar in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. For those wanting the official word, see our press release here.
It may sound wonky, but it’s an absolutely critical framework for easing electricity providers into the world of solar and protecting Illinois energy consumers from sticker shock. Plus it helps get solar projects and jobs started now – when the Illinois economy can use it most. This year’s legislation sends a clear message to the solar industry to gear up to meet tremendous demand from Illinois in the next two years.
In combination with the one year old solar mandate Ohio, and newly created mandate for solar in Missouri, the new solar targets in Illinois will make solar energy a real part of the mix throughout the Midwest. Expect to see other states follow suit.
Congratulations on the passage of the Illinois Solar Ramp Up bill are due to the Environmental Law and Policy Center and our friends at Illinois Solar Energy Association among many other great state enviro groups. This bill hung in the balance in April when Vote Solar and ELPC organized a solar lobby day. Thanks to all those who lobbied along with our many members who contacted their elected officials to let them know Illinoisans want solar now!