University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Solar Farm 2.0 nearing completion

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Facilities & Services (F&S) announces the final stage of completion for Solar Farm 2.0, totaling 12.3 MW (DC), with the planting phase of the farm’s pollinator habitat commencing this month. The project is the second solar farm constructed at the U of I and achieves clean energy sustainability goals outlined in the university’s Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP), nearly four years ahead of schedule. Clean energy production will now support approximately 12 percent of the school’s annual electricity demand. The planting of the project’s native pollinator habitat bookmarks the solar farm’s unique array of state-of-the-art technological and sustainable features.

The site’s 54 acres will serve as a major demonstration and research location for pollinator-friendly solar arrays. The University of Illinois Solar Farm 2.0 project exceeded the required 85 minimum points established by the State of Illinois’ Pollinator Friendly Solar Site Act. With 134 points achieved on the pollinator scorecard, including the adjacent landscape buffer, the solar array officially “Provides Exceptional Habitat.” The custom seed mix designed by Natural Resource Services, with more than 21 different plant types that are native to the area, will make the land between and around the panels more resilient and create a natural habitat for a variety of local and migratory birds and beneficial insects. In total, the site will contain more than 6.5 million flowering plants and native grasses.

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Development: Solar Farm 2.0 was developed by national solar energy firm Sol Systems, which built the farm with bifacial solar panels, single-axis trackers, pollinator habitat, and zero waste construction practices. Through the firm’s development wing, Sol Customer Solutions, a joint venture between Sol Systems and Capital Dynamics, Capital Dynamics will serve as owners of the project with Sol Systems managing the asset throughout the 20-year term of the agreement.

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The University will purchase all energy produced by the array under a power purchase agreement (PPA) at a fixed price over a 20-year term. In addition to the long-term fixed rate, which hedges UIUC against future utility price uncertainty, the PPA allows the university to go solar with no upfront costs, providing an expected $300,000 in savings in the first year alone.

“The use of innovative technology and land-use practices and strong, ongoing partnership between Sol Systems and the University of Illinois is what makes this project so remarkable,” said William Graves, Director of Originations at Sol Systems. “Solar Farm 2.0 is a marquee project not only for the university but also for the state of Illinois.” 

Sol Systems partnered with South Bend, Indiana-based Inovateus Solar, which constructed the solar arrays. Inovateus used reduced-waste construction practices that prevented as much as 45 tons of materials from reaching landfills. Specifically, Inovateus worked with F&S Waste Management to recycle nearly 94 percent of the project’s construction packaging, plastics, wood pallets, and other refuse.

Academic collaboration is a major theme emphasized in the F&S Strategic Plan because using the campus as a living learning laboratory for students and researchers is essential to the success of the university. Sol Systems and Inovateus worked with students in the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment’s campus-wide sustainability minor to assess the carbon footprint of Solar Farm 2.0 from sourcing to installation. Sol Systems will use the reports, produced by the student groups as part of their Sustainability, Energy and Environment Fellows Program capstone, to assess potential sustainability improvements to all future projects. ​​​​​​​The University hopes to offer onsite tours this fall, along with a celebratory ribbon-cutting for the project.

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