Cook County Announces Pilot Sites to Help Establish Community Shared Solar Power

Initiative will broaden the reach of solar energy to residents, businesses, institutions 

The Cook County Department of Environmental Control and its partners have selected 15 pilot sites to help study and establish community shared solar power in the region. 

The sites selected are located throughout Cook County and reflect a variety of building and property types, including a community college, affordable housing units, a landfill, industrial sites and places of worship. 

Community shared solar is a solar-electric system that provides 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. 

The sites are: 

  • Hill Arboretum Apartments, an Over The Rainbow Association property, which is a nonprofit group that provides housing for people with physical disabilities, 2040 Brown Ave., Evanston 
  • Des Plaines-Lake Landfill, a property of the Archdiocese of Chicago, 9800 E. Central Road, Des Plaines 
  • Prairie State College, 202 S. Halsted St., Chicago Heights 
  • United Airlines Training and Data Center, 1200 E. Algonquin Road, Des Plaines 
  • Altgeld Gardens Homes, a property of the Chicago Housing Authority - Block 16, 134th St and Corliss Ave., Chicago 
  • CTA Rail Heavy Maintenance Facility, 3701 W. Oakton St., Skokie 
  • Housing Authority of Cook County vacant land in Chicago Heights, IL. 
  • Rich East High School, 300 Sauk Trail, Park Forest 
  • Taft High School, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago 
  • Markham Courthouse, 16501 S. Kedzie Ave., Markham 
  • 3057 N. Rockwell St., a Rockwell Properties, LLC commercial/industrial redevelopment in Chicago 
  • Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 1175 Grove St., Glenview 
  • 4150 N Knox Ave., a new construction industrial development from WBS Equities in Chicago 
  • Warren Park Field House, a Chicago Park District facility at 6601 N. Western Ave., Chicago 
  • Theaster Gates’ Studio and Residence, HQ of Rebuild Foundation, 7200 S. Kimbark Ave., Chicago 

Cook County and its partners, with federal funding of $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, are creating a solar energy case study and engineering assessment for each site to help property owners enter the community solar market.

The Solar Market Pathways project was one of 15 awarded nationally in 2014 and is funded by the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. 

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 award has funded efforts to establish models for community solar and eliminate barriers to implementing such projects in Cook County. 

“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. “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.” 

“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.” 

The project is supported by the advice and cooperation of more than 100 stakeholders, including solar energy developers. 

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 would need to pursue actual solar installation as separate efforts, economic business cases developed for each site through the SunShot 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.

In addition to the analysis that will be conducted on each site, this project has: 

  • Inventoried the current community solar marketplace in Cook County;
  • Identified the potential market for community solar (suitable available sites/supply and customer base/demand); 
  • Analyzed the economics of different ownership structures (such as developer-owned, nonprofit-owned and utility-owned models); 
  • Identified the economic and policy barriers to community solar and proposed approaches to eliminate those barriers;
  • And created a Community Solar Business Case Tool that projects the costs and benefits to the system developer and subscriber of a community solar project. 

At the conclusion of the program, the County and its partners plan to share lessons learned from the pilots so other regional projects can succeed.

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption. SunShot aims to make solar energy a low cost electricity source for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners. Learn more at energy.gov/sunshot