Solar Alliance Energy commits to build a 500 kW community solar generation and battery storage project in Southern Illinois that will include a solar industry workforce redevelopment program for unemployed former coal industry workers. The pilot project will target a community in Illinois impacted by high electricity rates and high unemployment in the coal sector. The pilot project will strengthen the community by providing clean solar power, resilient battery backup, and lower electricity costs, while building capacity and providing a high value skill set to an underemployed workforce.
This commitment addresses several interconnected issues: the high cost of energy, underemployment in the coal industry, air pollution caused by fossil fuel burning power plants, rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the need to integrate renewable energy sources into utility systems.
Solar Alliance will launch a detailed site selection process comparing ease of interconnection and power purchase agreement opportunities at multiple sites. Determining the willingness of a utility to work with Solar Alliance on this project represents a key challenge. However, given the experience the Solar Alliance team brings to the project, the company believes it is well positioned to obtain interconnection and power purchase agreements. Solar Alliance expects to sign a PPA within the first year of the commitment and obtain all required permits by the second year of the commitment.
Following interconnection agreements, Solar Alliance will execute the conceptual design, document the permitting requirements, source final funding, and finalize the training and certification program. The training and certification program will be funded by Solar Alliance and provided by an accredited national solar certification provider. Solar Alliance will train up to 30 underemployed coal industry workers. They will be recruited through a process that includes coordination with local job placement agencies, advertising and industry outreach. The project will employ three full time, permanent employees in maintenance, project coordination and community engagement roles. The project will also employ 38 temporary full time indviduals during construction . Solar Alliance will also institute a community/stakeholder engagement to process to ensure the benefits of the project are communicated and there is an opportunity for local communities to provide feedback. These activities will all take place relatively concurrently, and ultimately lead to a final project design, kick off of the training and certification program, financial close, installation, and operation. Finally, Solar Alliance will conduct a project audit and document lessons learned in a program template to best replicate this commitment in additional communities.
Solar Alliance has a targeted, multi skilled project team that will ensure the commitment is appropriately resourced from a staffing and financial perspective. The company brings significant project development, project finance, government affairs, renewable energy to this project. The company also brings mining industry experience to this commitment; this will allow Solar Alliance to focus training and recruitment on the sectors of the industry that need it the most. The unique skillset of the Solar Alliance executive team allows the company to develop the financial, technical and workforce development aspects of the commitment, all in parallel. In addition, the Solar Alliance team will be able to leverage current relationships in the Illinois state government, the renewable energy industry, as well as the mining industry, in order to bring partners into the project as appropriate.
The implementation steps are as follows:
Q1-Q2, 2017: The first stage of the commitment is strategic in nature and involves finalizing project partners, executing site selection process, partnering with utility for interconnection agreement (IA), as well as the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Solar Alliance will also initiate a stakeholder/public engagement process and training recruitment process.
Q3, 2017: Once the first stage is completed, the company will conclude any project partner agreements, equity funding and site selection.
Q4, 2017: With all partners on board, and a site selected, Solar Alliance will focus on drafting the training and certification program, and concluding grant and debt project funding. Hire 3 permanent project coordinators.
Q1, 2018: The conceptual design and document permitting requirements will be drafted. IA and PPA will be drafted and submitted to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) for review and approval.
Q2, 2018: Training and certification program for 30 underemployed coal industry workers will be finalized. Solar Alliance will also start the permitting process.
Q3, 2018: The conceptual design will be finalized and the training and certification program will be initiated.
Q4, 2018: A detailed engineering design process will be initiated to determine final project design and parameters.
Q1, 2018: Permitting will be finalized, which will allow the project to move to finalize financing partners.
Q2, 2019: Solar Alliance will finalize project financing.
Q3, 2019: Solar Alliance anticipates financial close at this time. Subsequently, construction and commissioning will be initiated. The workforce will be at its peak of 38 full time jobs during this step in the timeline.
Q4, 2019: The solar installation will start operation. Solar Alliance will request an audit to determine best practices. Using the audit results and general project experience, Solar Alliance will capture lessons learned.
Solar energy can serve as a vehicle for change, helping transform communities burdened with high energy costs and high unemployment into centers of innovation, prosperity, and hope.
Among basic necessities, increases in residential energy costs have the most regressive impact on low-income households. According to a study by Fisher, Sheehan & Colton, an energy burden of more than six percent of gross annual household income is considered unaffordable. In the United States, more than 25 million households in the lowest tax bracket spend more than 20% of after-tax income on energy. According to the study Energy Expenditures by American Families, when confronted with a reduced income, families are least likely to be able to reduce their electricity expenditures, the most common monthly utility bill.
At the same time, employment in the coal industry has dropped significantly in recent years. According to coal industry and federal government figures, more than 700 miners in Illinois (about 16 percent of the coal industry workforce) were laid off in 2015. If all announced layoffs go through, the Illinois coal industry, which employed 4,455 at the end of 2014, will drop to a little more than 3,100 employees. Historically, communities were formed around the coal industry, and often in these communities, the major employer continues to be the coal company. As coal jobs rapidly decrease, many former coal industry employees are left with limited employment opportunities in the communities where they and their families currently live.
Growth in the solar industry is expected to increase exponentially along with related solar industry employment opportunities. According to the International Renewable Energy Industry and U.S. Bureau of Statistics, in 2015 solar construction and installation-related jobs grew 12 times faster than overall job creation in the U.S. In fact, the number of U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those of oil and natural gas extraction for the first time last year.
The health benefits communities experience from solar energy replacing more polluting fuel sources for electricity generation are plentiful. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States are generated from many sources, with the electric power industry contributing 33% of the total U.S.GHG emissions. In contract, photovoltaic (PV) technology produces clean, emissions-free electricity, and this electricity can be fed directly into the electric grid.
Finally, many renewable energy sources are constrained by the intermittent nature of their generation. Solar power paired with battery storage allows the resource to provide electricity, even when the sun is not shining. This combination of technologies both facilitates load shifting and provides emergency backup during natural disasters.