Look Out, California: One of the Country’s Largest Solar Arrays is Taking Shape in… Illinois? - Inside Climate News (2023)

The largest solar arrays operating in the United States are located in the kinds of sunny states you would expect—five in California, four in Texas and one in Arizona.

But a project that began construction last month in Illinois is going to be about as large or larger than all of them.

The 593-megawatt Double Black Diamond Solar farm near Springfield is indicative of several trends in solar power, as projects grow ever larger and are built in places that get much less sun than the southwest.

The developer, Swift Current Energy of Boston, is building the project to meet demand from corporations and local governments aiming to meet clean energy goals.

Among the buyers is the Chicago city government, which has said that the project will provide most of the electricity used by municipal properties, including some giant power users like O’Hare and Midway airports and two water purification plants.

Chicago’s involvement with the project is tied to the city’s goal, adopted by former Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and affirmed by the current mayor, Lori Lightfoot, to use 100 percent renewable electricity in city buildings by 2025.

But the city doesn’t have a contract with the project itself. Instead, Chicago has a deal with Constellation Energy to supply the city with 100 percent renewable energy. The Baltimore-based company sells electricity and natural gas contracts in states—like Illinois—that allow customers to choose their supplier for those resources.

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Look Out, California: One of the Country’s Largest Solar Arrays is Taking Shape in… Illinois? - Inside Climate News (1)

Constellation will obtain 70 percent of Chicago’s total from Double Black Diamond, once the project finishes construction in 2024. The rest could be renewable energy from anywhere, although city officials have said they would like to have much of it come from projects in the Chicago area.

“I am as excited as anybody to see shovels in the ground, so to speak, this spring,” said Jared Policicchio, Chicago’s deputy chief sustainability officer, about the solar project.

“We are hoping that we can demonstrate to other public agencies and, frankly, private organizations in the region, that you can cost effectively continue to spur the quick development of this critical industry,” he said.

The city’s electricity contract is helping to support the solar project while still paying electricity rates that are competitive, he said.

Double Black Diamond has customers in addition to Chicago. State Farm, the insurance company, and PPG, the paint manufacturer, have signed up to buy power from the project.

The largest operational U.S. solar project by capacity is Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County on the Central Coast of California, with 586 megawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, which also provided the list of the top 10 projects I referred to at the beginning.

Look Out, California: One of the Country’s Largest Solar Arrays is Taking Shape in… Illinois? - Inside Climate News (2)

Double Black Diamond has slightly more capacity, with 593 megawatts, but it’s smaller than Topaz in acres. Double Black Diamond covers about 4,100 acres, while Topaz is about 4,700 acres. Let’s just say both of them are really big and they have about the same capacity. (I should also mention Copper Mountain Solar in Nevada, which has more than 800 megawatts, built over a decade in five phases; some observers say this is the largest operational project, while others count the phases as separate projects.)

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The ever-increasing sizes of solar projects mean that several of the others in development are going to be larger than Topaz and Double Black Diamond. The research firm Wood Mackenzie says Double Black Diamond ranks at least eighth in capacity of projects that are in some phase of development but not yet operational.

Among the challenges wind and utility-scale solar projects in Illinois have faced is opposition from local residents who view the developments as ugly, and a lack of enough transmission lines to deliver the electricity.

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Double Black Diamond was able to navigate both challenges. It got approval in 2021 from the county government that hosts the project, despite testimony from some neighbors opposing it.

Also, the project had the benefit of being close to a relatively new transmission line that had capacity available, the Illinois Rivers project built by the utility Ameren.

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Double Black Diamond also got a boost from clean energy policies, including the Chicago 2025 target and several state laws that encourage wind and solar development. A 2021 state law, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, is one of the reasons that the project is required to be built with workers making union wages and meet standards for diversity in hiring.

If there are going to be more projects of this magnitude in Illinois, another law is going to play a role: the federal Inflation Reduction Act. This climate and clean energy law from 2022 passed too recently to have much of an effect on Double Black Diamond, but it is likely to have a huge effect on the clean energy economy going forward.

I asked Eric Lammers, CEO of Swift Current Energy, what the IRA means for his company and industry.

“The IRA has caused investment in renewable energy to accelerate,” he said in an email. “At Swift Current, we’re particularly excited about provisions in the IRA that increase investment in clean energy manufacturing and in communities that have historically contributed to America’s energy independence.”

Other stories about the energy transition to take note of this week:

New US Tailpipe Emissions Standards Could Make or Break Biden’s Climate Legacy: New vehicle emissions rules proposed Wednesday by the Biden administration are a big deal, with the potential to severely cut into the climate harm done by cars and trucks, as my colleague Marianne Lavelle reports. To meet the rules, automakers and consumers are going to need to accelerate their shift to electric vehicles, and there are signs of momentum in that direction. But I can’t overstate the scale of the change that would need to happen, with two-thirds of the passenger cars needing to be EVs within a decade. And I’m not going to underestimate the challenges that are sure to arise in the form of opposition from some elected officials, automakers and fossil fuel companies.

The Real-World Costs of the Digital Race for Bitcoin: The New York Times identified 34 large-scale U.S. sites that produce the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, a process that uses up tremendous amounts of electricity and contributes to an increase in carbon emissions and utility bills for everyone around them. The findings go against an argument commonly made by cryptocurrency businesses that their industry is mostly tied to clean energy and does not strain the grid, as Gabriel J.X. Dance reports. This well-reported story annihilates the idea that Bitcoin is part of the clean energy economy.

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Four in 10 Say Their Next Vehicle May Be Electric: A substantial share of the U.S. population is considering a switch to an EV, but it’s not yet a majority, as Tom Krisher, Matthew Daly and Hannah Fingerhut report for the Associated Press. About 4 in 10 U.S. adults said they were likely to switch, according to a poll by the AP and its partners. Only 8 percent said they or someone in their household owns or leases an EV. Maybe it’s a “glass half full” kind of thing, but I find these numbers encouraging about the prospects for EV demand, even though I realize others are citing the same poll to say interest in EVs is low.

New York Auto Show Has More than Three Dozen New EV Models, and Also Concerns About Charging: The Ram 1500 Rev and Hyundai Ioniq 6 are among the more than three dozen new EV models on display at the New York International Auto Show, a number that shows rapid progress in the auto industry’s shift to electricity. But the show has also provided a forum to discuss some of the challenges hindering EV adoption, including the lack of easy access to charging for many people, as Maria Gallucci reports for Canary Media. One expert in the story says the lack of adequate public charging is the No. 1 obstacle to EV adoption, and that’s confirmed by the poll I just mentioned, in which three quarters of respondents cited this concern as a reason to stick with gasoline.

California Denies Bid from Home Solar Company to Sell Power as a ‘Micro-Utility’: California regulators have rejected a plan from Sunnova, the rooftop solar company, to set up microgrids to serve newly built communities with solar and energy storage, as my colleague Emma Foehringer Merchant reports. The California Public Utilities Commission said its denial of the plan was due in part to a lack of specificity in Sunnova’s application. The dynamics in this case are familiar to anyone who follows California energy policy. The state is the national leader in rooftop solar, but its regulators and policymakers often make decisions friendly to utilities, the giant companies that in this case viewed Sunnova’s plan as a threat that would take away market share.

Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org.

Look Out, California: One of the Country’s Largest Solar Arrays is Taking Shape in… Illinois? - Inside Climate News (3)

Dan Gearino

Clean Energy Reporter, Midwest, National Environment Reporting Network

Dan Gearino covers the midwestern United States, part of ICN’s National Environment Reporting Network. His coverage deals with the business side of the clean-energy transition and he writes ICN’s Inside Clean Energy newsletter. He came to ICN in 2018 after a nine-year tenure at The Columbus Dispatch, where he covered the business of energy. Before that, he covered politics and business in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He grew up in Warren County, Iowa, just south of Des Moines, and lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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Where is the largest solar farm in the US? ›

Topaz Solar Farm
Wikimedia | © OpenStreetMap
CountryUnited States
LocationCarrizo Plain, San Luis Obispo County, California
Coordinates35°23′00″N 120°04′00″W
17 more rows

How many solar farms are in California? ›

California has 776 solar power plants, that produced 33,670 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 2021, or 17.3% of the state's energy, according to the California Energy Commission.

Who builds solar farms in California? ›

Solar | BHE Renewables. With 1,536 megawatts of solar generation in operation, BHE Renewables is an industry leader in solar energy generation. Topaz Solar Farms is a 550-megawatt photovoltaic power plant in San Luis Obispo County, California.

What is the Illinois renewable siting bill? ›

The Siting Bill authorizes counties to regulate the siting of wind turbines and solar panels but with standards no more restrictive than those outlined in the bill.

What is the largest solar farm in Illinois? ›

The Double Black Diamond Solar Farm will be the largest solar project in Illinois and one of the largest in the Midwest.

Which state has the largest solar project? ›

Which is World's Largest Solar Power Plant and where is it located? The Bhadla Solar Park is the World's largest Solar Power Plant. It is based in Bhadla village, in India's Rajasthan's Jodhpur district – a region known for its solar-friendly high temperatures.

Why does California have so much solar? ›

Solar power has been growing rapidly in the U.S. state of California because of high insolation, community support, declining solar costs, and a renewable portfolio standard which requires that 60% of California's electricity come from renewable resources by 2030, with 100% by 2045.

Where does California rank in solar power? ›

Once again, California tops the list with 10,510,648 homes currently powered primarily by solar, which is not surprising when you take into account that California is also the most populous state. In terms of homes powered by solar energy, California is followed by Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.

Why is California the best place for solar energy? ›

So to recap, here is why California is the perfect place for solar energy: The states inherent and natural climate enables lots of exposure to direct sunlight. This amount of sunlight is perfect for Photovoltaic solar panels. It also results in better electricity yields because of better sunlight.

Do solar farms make money? ›

After the initial investment, solar farms offer recurring revenue for years to come. One of the reasons a solar plant can be so profitable is that the energy created is sold back to the electricity utility so that it can be distributed and used by others.

Is California paying people to go solar? ›

California Solar Rebates and Tax Credits

The Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) and Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program are among the current solar panel incentives in California. The SGIP offers rebates to residential homes and businesses that install a solar battery with a rooftop panel system.

Who funds solar farms? ›

The California Energy Commission provides grants and other financial incentives to support the development and use of renewable energy throughout the state.

Does Illinois allow off grid living? ›

Living off grid is legal in Illinois. Because the state has such relaxed laws about building codes, wastewater treatment, and water rights, it is actually one of the best states for living off grid – at least as far as meeting legal requirements go.

Can you sell electricity back to the grid in Illinois? ›

One-to-one net metering means that you will be credited for the electricity you send back to the grid at the same rate that you are charged for electricity. One kilowatt-hour sent to the grid offsets 1 kilowatt-hour used from the grid.

What is the Climate plan for Illinois? ›

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act will: Slash climate-changing carbon pollution by phasing out fossil fuels in the power sector. Require Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045, with significant emissions reductions before then.

Is Illinois a good state for solar? ›

Illinois Shines: Illinois is one of few states with a Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program to support the development of solar projects in the state. Homeowners get one SREC for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours produced by their solar panels.

Why go solar in Illinois? ›

Solar energy can help Illinois residents save money and protect them against increases in future energy costs and it's good for the environment! Eligible participants work directly with ILSFA Approved Vendors. These companies have been vetted and provide services with no, or low, upfront costs and guaranteed savings.

How much does Illinois pay to go solar? ›

The best Illinois solar panel incentives or rebates

Based on the average solar panel cost in Illinois, this tax credit alone is worth around $8,438. You can only qualify for this tax credit if you own your system, so you are not eligible if you lease your panels or enter a power purchase agreement (PPA).

Who owns the biggest solar farm? ›

Also referred to as the Great Wall of Solar, the farm is owned by the China National Grid and Zhongwei Power Supply Company. It became operational in 2017 and now fuels more than 6,00,000 homes.

Where is the biggest solar farm? ›

The largest solar farm in the world is located in Rajasthan, in the country's northeast. Since construction began in 2015, Bhadla Solar Park has slowly grown to cover an enormous 5,700-hectare desert site with solar panels. And today it generates enough electricity to power 4.5 million homes.

Which state is best for solar farm? ›

10 Best Places for Solar Sites in the US
  • 1. California. Surprising literally no one, California is the absolute best place to develop solar power. ...
  • North Carolina. For people who imagine desert states, North Carolina might come as a surprise. ...
  • New Jersey. ...
  • Colorado. ...
  • Nevada. ...
  • Florida. ...
  • Arizona. ...
  • New Mexico.
Oct 5, 2022

Does California have too much solar? ›

In 2020, CAISO curtailed 1.5 million megawatt-hours of utility-scale solar, or 5 percent of its utility-scale solar production because supply exceeded demand during the times solar power was performing.

Why is California electricity so high? ›

So California's rising prices can be traced to higher energy procurement costs, increases in transmission, and most significantly, distribution costs.

Is California running on 100% renewable energy? ›

June 10, 2022. As Earth Month drew to a close, the state of California was recently able to produce virtually all of their energy needs from renewable sources for the first time ever. In early April, the state achieved a new record at 97.6% renewable power, and on May 2 they were able to reach 99.9%.

Is it better to go solar in California? ›

According to the Energy Information Administration, California's average residential electric bill was about $131 a month in 2021 or $1,568 over a full year. That means if you invest in a solar system that covers your entire energy usage, you could save up to $1,568 each year with solar energy.

Is solar more expensive in California? ›

As mentioned above, Californians pay a bit more per watt for solar equipment than residents of most other states. The cost per watt is around $0.07 more in CA than throughout the U.S. However, the average system size in the country is 9 kW, which is about 50% larger than what is required in CA.

What is the solar target in California? ›

California ups renewables target again with new plan to add 85GW by 2035. The updated carbon-cutting goals will require immense amounts of solar, batteries, offshore wind, geothermal and transmission.

Is solar free in California? ›

California does not have a free solar installation program. No state currently has such a program. Instead, California offers tax incentives and rebates to reduce the cost of installing solar panels. This makes it cheaper to buy solar panels and convert to solar energy than in some other states.

Does solar save money? ›

Besides the federal tax credit, solar panels increase property values while lowering utility bills. Compared to gas or electric heating systems, solar panels save you much more in the long-run. Your solar panel system can pay for itself in three years!

Who owns the largest solar farm in the United States? ›

Indiana to be home to US' largest solar farm, 1,000 times the size of a football stadium. INDIANAPOLIS — For the last week, Norm Welker has spent hours every day in the cab of his combine. He rises with the sun and travels up and down his more than 1,000 acres in Indiana, something he has done for decades.

What states have the largest solar farms? ›

California has by far the greatest installed capacity of solar photovoltaic (PV) power of any U.S. state. As of the second quarter of 2022, the Golden State had a cumulative solar power capacity of over 37 gigawatts. Texas followed with a capacity of roughly 15 gigawatts.

Who is the largest owner of solar assets in the US? ›

Largest Solar Companies Research Summary

The largest solar company in the U.S. is NextEra Energy, with a revenue of $17.069 billion and an market share of 2.37%. As of 2022, the U.S. solar industry has a market size of $12 billion.

What is the largest solar factory in the US? ›

First Solar, headquartered in Arizona, founded in 1999, is the largest solar manufacturer in the US by capacity. It has opened a plant in Ohio that brings the total capacity of its US operations to 1.9 GW. In addition to being the largest manufacturer in the US, it is also the only one that makes thin-film modules.


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