The University of Illinois has begun construction on its second solar farm, as part of its long-term plan to expand renewable energy and become carbon-neutral by 2050. The new solar farm will provide 20,000 megawatt hours per year to the U of I campus—the equivalent to powering around 2,000 average homes.
The project follows the university’s first solar farm, which was built in 2015 along East Windsor Road, about a mile north of the site for the new facility. The university says together, the two solar farms will help reach its goal of producing 25,000 megawatt hours per year by 2025, as based on its Illinois Climate Action Plan, or iCAP.
The project will also help the university reduce its carbon footprint, says Mohamed Attalla, Executive Director of Facilities and Services with the university.
“This project contributes to the reduction of about 15,000 carbon tons per year,” Attalla says. “So this project will allow the university to reach its goal, its objective.”
In the long run, the university plans to become entirely carbon neutral by 2050—which essentially means eliminating a carbon footprint altogether. Carbon neutrality can be achieved by canceling out carbon emissions with carbon removal, or removing sources of carbon emissions completely and replacing them with renewable energy. Attalla says the new solar farm—in addition to a 27,000 megawatt hours per year wind power project—will boost the university’s total renewable energy production to about 13% of overall energy consumption on campus.
But the university will need to invest in more renewable energy sources if it’s to reach its upcoming goal of 140,000 megawatt hours per year by 2025. Atalla says in addition to solar, the university is considering boosting wind and geothermal energy.
The solar farm will span 54 acres on Curtis Road between First Street and U.S. Route 45, near Savoy. Construction will continue through the winter, and the solar farm is expected to begin operating in January 2021.
Lecia Bushak is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @Lecia_Bushak.