St. Charles’ Solar Plant – A Year’s Worth of Production and Experience

By Tom Bruhl, Electric Services Manager

The solar plant in St. Charles, commissioned by the Illinois Municipal Electric Association (IMEA), began commercial operation Sept. 1, 2017. The day we ‘flipped the switch’ came after more than 18 months of effort obtaining approvals, developing agreements, and constructing the solar plant. It has been a great project and well worth the effort.

From a technical standpoint, the plant has performed exactly as expected. The 4,824 ground-mounted solar panels have generated over 700,000 kwh of energy. To put that in perspective, the average residential customer in St. Charles consumes about 750 kwh a month or about 9,000 kwh a year.

The energy production is in the southeastern quadrant of the City where power consumption density is the highest, which helps the electric grid. The City has been monitoring power quality with very sensitive relays, and we have experienced no noticeable impact to the system. So the solar plant is contributing power seamlessly within our traditional distribution grid. Power from the plant is sold to the City through our supplier, IMEA, under a power purchase agreement. The negotiated purchase price for the first year has had an absolutely negligible impact on the cost of power to the citizens of St. Charles.

It has been a pleasure to help St. Charles be a leader in municipal solar in Illinois. Based on our positive experience, IMEA is considering additional facilities in other communities; and I have talked with a number of people from other cities about what it is involved and how everything works.

With a new power technology, comes new safety issues to consider. St. Charles Fire Lieutenant Jeff Tarro and I worked with the Energy Education Council to develop a short video that advises first responders about the potential hazards related to a solar plant and how to respond to safety calls. We hope the video will be shared with other Fire Departments nationwide. The solar plant also has very detailed signage to help first responders in an emergency.

The City of St. Charles is active in our sustainability commitments. We are pro-solar and have demonstrated experience with solar installations. The expertise we have gained is also something that I hope more residents and businesses leverage in the coming years.