The Solar Rise

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- "We're seeing a bit of a bubble right now but, that bubble is probably going to last for another couple of years," says Chet Kolodziej, a representative from Freedom Field Renewable Energy in Rockford. The "bubble" Kolodziej refers to is the latest push for a record-breaking number of solar farm projects not only in Illinois but in several of our local communities.

Nestled within a field near Beltline road...just to the south of the Chicago-Rockford International Airport...lies the start of an anticipated energy revolution in the state of Illinois.

"Like anything else, its location, location, location. But, if you have something like this where there are fifty acres out here that is a buffer for the airport, you can put over two-hundred thousand solar panels out here," says Kolodziej.

A record number of construction requests for solar farms is being seen across the state, including in our backyard. Why the sudden increase now? It all boils down to economics. The federal government currently provides a tax credit for up to thirty-percent of a solar installations cost, and that incentive is set to decrease dramatically after 2019, becoming a permanent ten-percent credit by the year 2022. "The economics are such that you're getting solar-generated electricity for about the same price as regular electricity. Ten years ago that wasn't the case," says Kolodziej.

On average solar panels have a lifespan of 20-25 years and that's raising a big concern for some of the counties seeing the requests. Who hands the decommissioning once that time expires? "The main concern is losing productive farmland. The site they are looking at is prime agricultural land. We can't reproduce that. Who's going to decommission it? Who's doing to take it apart," says Julie Newhouse, a farmer in Carpon. Boone County and other Counties must deal with those questions as energy companies look to build there. "Twenty years from now, thirty years from now, yeah, they may or may not have to be taken out. The question is who's responsible for that if you abandon a house, who's responsible for tearing it down? So I guess it's the same thing. says Kolodziej.

The State of Illinois is also addressing concerns regarding the use of the land while the solar panels are in place. "There's a bill sitting in the Governor's office right now, if it hasn't been signed it will be, they have what they call The Pollinator Act. Rather than putting gravel underneath them the way the laws read they actually put flowers and things like that to encourage pollinators," says Kolodziej.

For consumers, the most important question in all of this boils down to the impact on their utility bills. "Ten years ago your electric bill would probably be 10 to 15 percent higher, but today the economics are such that it's about the same," says Kolodziej.

As counties continue to debate the future of solar energy in their backyard, it's looking more likely that solar will continue to rise across the region.