News Local/State

Ribbon-Cutting Marks U Of I Solar Farm’s Opening

President Timothy Killeen and other dignitaries cut a ceremonial ribbon to open the new solar farm at the University of Illinois Urbana campus.

Dignitaries, including University of Illinois Trustee Karen Hasara (left) and President Timothy Killeen (center), cut a ceremonial ribbon Thursday morning (Nov. 19th) to mark the launch of the Solar Farm serving the Urbana campus. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

A sunny day greeted dignitaries from the University of Illinois and elsewhere on Thursday morning, as they officially opened a solar farm for the Urbana campus.

The cutting of a ceremonial ribbon drew applause from about 75 people, shielded from the windy by a tent erected directly in front of the solar farm off Windsor Road on the south end of campus. The nearly 21 acres of solar panels convert sunlight to electricity, enough to power about 700 average American homes, or about 2% of campus electrical needs.  

“We are so tickled pink to see this sea of solar cells out there,” said university President Timothy Killeen, speaking for himself and his wife, Roberta.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson was also impressed by the field of solar panels which began supplying electricity to campus just one week earlier.

“When I think about this very non-descript little corner of our campus, which probably nobody paid any attention to for the last ten years, and look at what it’s been transformed into, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Wilson.

Campus Facilities & Services executive director Al Stratman says that the solar farm and other smaller solar installations on campus show the growing role of solar energy at the U of I. Smaller installations are at the Business Instructional Facility, the Building Research Council Laboratory, the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and Allerton Park.  

Stratman says the university is also installing additional solar arrays at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building and the North Campus Parking Deck. He expects additional solar installations in the years ahead.

“I believe you’re going to see solar being integrated into the actual facilities, and drawing power more and more over the next 20, 30 years,” said Stratman. “So I see solar having a big piece of the overall portfolio for the university.”

Another U of I Facilities & Services official involved in the solar farm project believes solar installations will be the norm in new houses built 10 to 20 years from now. Associate Director of Utility Distribution Keith Erickson thinks solar technology will be integrated into buildings on a regular basis, but that other types of renewable energy will used as well.

“No one piece, wind or solar, individually answers the need for energy,” said Erickson. “But in an optimal combination of all the things that we have, we can achieve a more sustainable society.”

A California firm, Phoenix Solar, built the solar farm, and will operate it for the first ten years, selling its electricity to the U of I. The university will take over the facility after that.

The U of I will begain paying Phoenix Solar for the electricity once the solar farm's testing phase is completed. Erickson says that could be in a week or two.