Altamont applies for solar panels

Pictured are the panles at the Rantoul solar facility. Submitted photo

ALTAMONT — The Altamont City Council recently approved the submission of a proposal to bring solar panels to the city.

At the council’s final July meeting, members voted unanimously to send a proposal to the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency citing the council’s interest in participating in the IMEA’s solar photovoltaic demonstration project.

Altamont City Clerk Sarah Stephen said the community already pays for electricity services from IMEA, so the panels would work in conjunction with the city’s current services should Altamont be selected for the project.

Stephen said the goal of obtaining the solar panels is to show that Altamont is a forward-thinking town.

“It will show that we are a progressive community,” Stephen said.

IMEA is a not-for-profit unit of municipal electric systems and one electric cooperative across the state of Illinois. Each member community owns and operates its own electric distribution system, according to the IMEA website.

The website also states that as an IMEA member, Altamont will receive electric service from IMEA through 2035. Staci Wilson, IMEA director of government affairs, said the city would not own the panels, and Altamont would simply be the host site for the project.

Additionally, Wilson said purchasing the panels would not affect residents financially. If Altamont’s initial proposal is approved, IMEA would create a contract with a third party developer to construct the site and purchase panels at the developer’s own expense.

“It works out because the developer is able to access the (federal) tax incentives because they’re not a unit of local government,” Wilson said. “Altamont would essentially be the host site. It’s not going to cost the residents any direct cost.”

After construction of the solar facility is complete, the developer would sell the power to IMEA under a power purchase agreement. Wilson said the city would have to pay for the interconnection costs that would link the current electric system to the solar panels.

The initial proposal will be evaluated by the IMEA Board in late August when board members will rank and recommend which member communities should receive the solar panels.

Should the IMEA Board find Altamont’s proposal acceptable, the organization will issue a development request for proposal to the city council, and the board will review this second proposal in November and decide whether or not to move forward with construction.

Stephen said installation of the solar panels would not begin until late this year or in early 2019 if Altamont is one of the chosen sites for the project.

An IMEA newsletter stated that the agency is seeking site proposals for between approximately four acres to 16 acres. Sites within these land sizes would generate between 500 kilowatts to 2,000 kilowatts of power, depending on acreage.

Altamont’s IMEA Board Member Larry Taylor said two locations are being considered as the building site for the solar panels. One location is on the north side of town next to the existing electricity generation plant, and the second location is on the south end of Altamont, adjacent to the waste management plant.

Taylor said these locations were selected because the city already owns the properties, and there is no obstruction of sunlight at either site.

As for long-term gains these panels could potentially bring to the city, Wilson said Altamont could benefit from the eco-friendly electric supply.

“They are forward-thinking, wanting to broaden their mix of traditional and renewable resource generation assets. This solar project is a perfect way to do that, while still ensuring residents have reliable, fair and predictably priced power,” Wilson said of the community.

IMEA’s first solar demonstration project site was constructed in December 2016 in Rantoul. The site officially opened in April 2017, boasting a one-megawatt array of panels.

A second project site is located in St. Charles, which opened in September 2017. Five other cities have applied for the current selection round of the project, Taylor said.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

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