Solar Farm Completed

Dec 01, 2015
With the November sun reflecting off 18,867 solar panels, Executive Director of Facilities & Services Al Stratman, welcomed President Timothy Killeen, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, Board of Trustees member Karen Hasara, and other project partners to celebrate the historic completion of the University’s first utility-scale solar array.

“Sustainability was at the core of the land grant mission originally and it has to be at the very core going forward,” said Killeen. In 2008, the University signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and two years later released the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) which outlines a path for the University to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

The Solar Farm “is part of our effort toward ensuring that the campus and the university are at the forefront of sustainable energy,” said Interim Chancellor Wilson.

Producing an expected 7.86 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) the first year or approximately 2% of the typical electrical demand for the Urbana campus, the Solar Farm is the largest solar array installed on any Big Ten University campus. With a 5.87 megawatt (MW) direct current nameplate capacity, the Solar Farm will be able to provide as much as 4.86 MW alternating current to the UI electrical distribution grid at any one time. The highest/peak electricity demand from last year (FY15) was 79.04 MW.

The Solar Farm project was approved in 2012 by the Board of Trustees, with a special power purchase agreement and land-lease agreement combination that created a public-private partnership with Phoenix Solar South Farms, LLC. Under this 10-year power purchase agreement, Rockwell Financial Group hired MET, Fehr-Graham, and Blue Oak Energy to design the Solar Farm, and they hired Phoenix Solar Inc. to build (with subcontractor U.S. Utilities), operate, and maintain the array for the duration of the agreement. The University will purchase all the electricity produced by the Solar Farm and deliver it directly to the campus grid. Rockwell Financial Managing Director Evan Christenson said, “The risk to the University is virtually nothing. If we don’t produce the power, they have no obligation to pay.” In addition, the University will own all the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and emission credits associated with energy from the Solar Farm.

“The easiest part of this project was building the Solar Farm. A power-purchase agreement like this for the university had never been done before. Without the core team (Kent Reifsteck, Keith Erickson, Mike Marquisse, Morgan Johnson) and Justin, Evan, Norm, and Joe this wouldn’t have happened. In its initial testing phase, the Solar Farm is already producing 4,068 kW with full capacity expected by mid-December” said Stratman.

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Solar Farm Core Team

Back Row: Norm Spooner (Phoenix Solar), Joe Borkowski (Rockwell Financial Group ), Mike Marquisse (F&S)

Front Row: Wes Curtis (University Legal Counc​el), Keith Erikson (F&S), Evan Christenson (Rockwell Financial Group), Justin  Johnston (University Purchasing), Kent Reifsteck (F&S), Morgan Johnston (F&S), Amy Liu (Student Sustainability Committee)

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