A Cooperative Spirit Shines Bright
Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative (IREC) in Winchester, IL recently held a ribbon cutting for its new 500 kilowatt solar facility next to one of the substations that serves the cooperative’s 7,800 members. The solar plant, covering about four acres, consists of 2,223 solar panels, all of which were manufactured in the U.S. At full capacity, it will provide enough electricity for about 170 homes on the hottest day of the year. The installation is the first utility-scale photovoltaic solar energy system by a cooperative in Illinois.
The $1.8 million project was partially funded by a $414,992 grant through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program and a $500,000 Renewable Energy Business Development Program grant offered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. This solar project, in addition to the cooperative’s wind turbine in Pike County and its share of Prairie Power’s wind resources, brings IREC’s renewable resources equal to more than 14% of the cooperative’s peak demand.
“Rural Development is proud to partner with IREC and others on this project. It strengthens our efforts to focus on more efficient ways to use our natural resources, cut costs and, ultimately, provide a boost to the local rural economy,” said Illinois Rural Development Director Colleen Callahan.
An added benefit of the project will offer local students the opportunity to learn about renewable energy in a hands-on environment. IREC chose to invite students from Winchester High School to the ribbon cutting as the co-op’s forefathers had done nearly 80 years ago when IREC dedicated a nearby diesel plant in 1938. The two projects may be very different but one thing remains the same, a project of this scale involves many different organizations and groups of people working towards the same goal. These students and those before them learned a valuable lesson about this cooperative spirit, a spirit that rural electric cooperatives embrace and demonstrate in rural communities throughout the nation.
For more information on the Rural Energy for America Program, please visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_ReapResEei.html.