University Trustees to Weigh Solar Farm Proposal
By Sean Powers
There’s been talk of a solar farm on the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus for more than four years, but Trustees are only now being asked to sign off on the project.
The development on a 20.5 acre site in southwest Champaign could be up and running by Fall 2013, but the project’s location is not sitting well with everyone involved.
The U of I's Sustainability Coordinator for Facilities and Services, Morgan Johnston, said the student sustainability committee had hoped to avoid using green space, and let the vendor build the farm in an existing structure.
In the planning since summer 2011, Johnston said the solar farm proposal has been set up as a $15.5 million power-purchase agreement.
Johnston said the proposed site just south of Windsor Road between First and Neil Streets proved ideal.
“It needed to be on campus as part of our generation here," she said. "The other component is that – when we ask the student sustainability committee to allocate some of their funds. They are very interested in getting it as close to the campus as possible, where students can see it.”
U of I Junior Marika Nell, chairwoman of the student committee, said the primary concern was two structures on the solar farm site, including an old barn. But she said faculty connected to historic preservation proved to her group they weren't historically significant on a larger scale.
"We did have concern about converting green space into a solar farm, because it can be placed on structures that exist already, or on parking lots or brownfields," Nell said. "But at this point, we're willing to support this project. And in the future, our funding will prioritize renewable energy that is located on those other sites."
Meanwhile, Savoy Village Manager Dick Helton said he has aesthetic concerns about setting up the plant there.
"You could have commercial development there," he said. "There could be a residential development. That would be a great area for a park to utilize that land. So we think that there's other locations that are not in the midst of so much potential residential development that could take place."
Johnston said it needs to be connected to campus, and not further south as suggested, to help meet the U of I’s goal of having 5-percent renewable energy by 2015 under its climate action plan.
If approved by Trustees at their meeting in Springfield Thursday, the U of I would finance the project over 20 years, partly replying on a student sustainability fee.