Sunny South Side

Sunny South Side

Exelon and SunPower’s solar array would be sited on a long-derelict, 39-acre property.
Courtesy SunPower

Solar power plants are blooming all over the world, each one claiming to be the biggest and most powerful. But instead of the Mohave Desert or the Qaidam Basin, Exelon Generation, an energy company that serves the Northeast, parts of Texas, and the city of Chicago, and SunPower Corporation, a manufacturer of solar systems, plan to develop the nation’s largest urban solar power plant at a former industrial site on Chicago’s South Side.

Exelon is arguing for the importance of finding urban locations for renewable energy in order to provide electrical services in urban areas. The project is planning to lease and make use of a 39-acre brownfield owned by the City of Chicago at the West Pullman Industrial Redevelopment Area. This 10-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) facility, featuring 32,800 solar panels that will produce enough clean energy to fulfill the annual requirements of 1,200 to 1,500 homes, will displace approximately 31.2 million pounds of greenhouse emissions annually (the equivalent of taking more than 2,500 cars off the road or planting more than 3,200 acres of forest).

As part of the company’s environmental strategy, Exelon Generation will own and operate the plant and market the electricity and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates it generates and SunPower will design, manufacture, and install the solar system. SunPower estimates the system will generate 50 percent more power than conventional solar panels, allowing significant energy production in a constricted urban space.

“The federal loan application went in last month and the project is scheduled for completion by the end of this year,” Jeffrey Smith, a spokesman for Exelon, told AN. The company applied for a federal loan under the federal stimulus legislation from the U.S Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program Office, which, if obtained, will cover up to 80 percent of this $60 million project.

Molly Sullivan, director of communications for the Department of Community Development of the City of Chicago, said that even after remediation the brownfield site would not be suitable for recreational open space for the public. “This site has been unused for 30 years, and didn’t get any interest from anybody else. The prospect of having the nation’s biggest urban solar plant is very exciting for us. We think this project has a lot of potential to bring something positive for the community and the environment.” The city and the energy companies are still working on the terms for the lease, but the project fits the city’s environmental agenda and would bring economic development to an otherwise unused site.