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State at forefront of solar power trend

Published: Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The future is looking bright in Illinois.

Setting aside, of course, the problems of over-spending, under-revenuing and pension problem-ignoring.

We’re talking about the growing use of solar energy in the Land of Lincoln.

Part of the increase is the result of reductions in costs associated with such components as photovoltaic cells. Another key to the new-found interest in using the power of the sun for energy is the explosion of the green movement during the past few years.

Last year, home and business owners spent $27 million to use solar energy – enough to produce 30 megawatts of power and put the state 13th in solar capacity. That reflected a 259 percent growth from the year before, according to the Illinois Solar Energy Association. This year is expected to do even better.

This is not new technology. As early as 1902, people realized the potential for using the sun as a power source. It was right here in Illinois – Olney, specifically – that H.E. Willsie and John Boyle started experiments that led to the opening of the Willsie Sun company in St. Louis a few years later.

Other fuel and energy sources, especially the then-seemingly abundant supply of coal, pushed solar energy to the wayside.

Renewed attention was given to solar energy in the 1970s, as people started to realize the finite nature of fossil fuels and the potential damage to the environment from fuel-production pollutants.

In 2002, construction of a 99-kilowatt solar panel on the roof of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago started a lot of people rethinking and re-exploring the potential to use the sun’s rays to do everything from heat water to provide electricity for houses and businesses.

Now, the state ranks 18th nationally in solar installations. At capacity, there is enough solar energy captured in Illinois to provide power for 6,000 houses.

The potential is even greater. The Grand Ridge Solar Plant in LaSalle County, one of the largest in the state, was completed last year and has the capacity to provide enough electricity for 2,700 houses.

It’s good to see Illinois at the forefront of a trend that is certain to become more viable and more in-demand in the years ahead.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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