Solar power may get chance to shine in Illinois Advocates see West Pullman power plant as sign of hope June 30, 2010|By Gerry Smith, Tribune reporter At a former industrial site on Chicago's South Side, more than 32,000 solar panels slowly tilt every few minutes, following the sun as it moves across the sky. Operated by Exelon Corp., the 40 acres of panels in West Pullman is the nation's largest urban solar plant, generating 10 megawatts of clean power and hope for an Illinois industry that has long waited for its moment in the sun. "We have been frustrated over the years that solar has not become more mainstream," said Kevin Lynch, who trains electricians to install solar panels for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "We understand it's still a relatively expensive technology, but the cost is much less than it was a few years ago." Indeed, the biggest obstacle to the growth of solar energy — its cost — has started to decline. The price of photovoltaic solar panels dropped more than 40 percent last year due to a glut in global supply, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The drop in price is driving renewed interest in solar energy, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Last month, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation that will double the state's solar power supply each year and create an estimated 5,000 "green" jobs by 2014. Meanwhile, at least three solar developers have plans to build solar projects of 10 to 20 megawatts in Illinois, Learner said. To be sure, Illinois is not quite the solar-powered mecca of California or Florida. But the potential is there: The sun in Illinois is more intense than in Japan or Germany, the world's two largest solar markets. "Illinois has the opportunity to be a very significant solar energy leader between the two coasts," Learner said. Nationwide, there are more than 22,000 megawatts of large-scale solar projects under development, or enough to power 4.4 million homes. And government incentives are helping drive the industry. A 30 percent manufacturing tax credit has resulted in the construction of 58 new facilities to produce solar energy equipment, according to Jared Blanton, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association. In Illinois, unions are preparing for the anticipated demand. At an apprentice school in Alsip, Lynch trains about 200 electricians a year to work in the solar industry. His students are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Jim Amedeo, the site supervisor at Exelon's West Pullman plant. Ads by Google
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