University of Illinois solar farm under construction, expected to be running by Christmas

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CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — A long-awaited solar farm is under construction at the University of Illinois and a campus official says it should be producing power by Christmas.

The 21-acre farm will be built on open land on the far south side of the Urbana-Champaign campus. It will eventually provide 2 percent of the campus' power.

The first panels will go up in mid-September, said Morgan Johnston, associate director of sustainability at UI Facilities and Services.

The farm is being built in partnership with Phoenix Solar of San Ramon, California. The university will pay the company $15.5 million over 10 years to run the solar farm and then take it over.

University officials say that cost is $5.3 million more than buying the power from more conventional sources, but the solar farm is part of a plan to help the campus meet renewable energy commitments in its 2010 Illinois Climate Action Plan. And the university says it will be able to run the farm at little cost after it takes over the facility.

The university has other, smaller renewable energy projects such as a rooftop solar facility on the Business Instructional Facility.

The new solar farm's construction was initially supposed to occur in 2013 but was delayed after a state procurement officer questioned, among other things, the bidding process. The project was eventually cleared to go ahead.

Some have also questioned whether central Illinois is sunny enough for the project to work as billed. University officials say other, smaller solar projects on campus and elsewhere in the area are effective.

Information from: The News-Gazette,

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