Last week, the Illinois Power Agency (IPA) announced its Community-Driven Community Solar Project selection results for program year 2023-2024. The agency selected the Green Energy Justice Cooperative (GEJC), a consumer-owned clean energy cooperative launched by Blacks in Green (BIG) and core partners, to develop three projects at 3 MWDC each, totaling 9 MW of solar power, to benefit community members in Illinois. BIG is a national network for environmental justice and economic development created to close America’s racial health/wealth gap through the new green economy.
On completion, the three projects will provide a rare community ownership stake in clean energy generation and lower the energy burden of its Black, Brown and other low-and-moderate income (LMI) beneficiaries in Aurora, Naperville, Romeoville and surrounding communities in Illinois. Similar developments by BIG are planned for Cook and Kankakee counties. The estimated value of this renewable energy credit award is $12.5M.
BIG projects ranked first, second and fourth in the Illinois Shines competitive process and validated years of investment by BIG to fulfill its second principle of Green-Village-Building: Each village produces and stores its own energy for light, heat and transportation, and owns its means of production.
“It’s a culmination of more than a decade of movement alliance work to build an Illinois renewable energy industry through FEJA and CEJA (Clean Energy Jobs Act) legislation, and to build community-scale solutions as a Chicago Climate Action Plan partner,” said Naomi Davis, founder and CEO of BIG. ”
Being awarded the project adds a tool to BIG’s Sustainable Square Mile/Energy Justice Portfolio, which it offers as open source innovation through an EPA Thriving Communities grant — along with options like village-scale microgrid and grid modernization study, neighborhood decarbonization, energy auditing workforce training, local EV charging station network and its energy affordability bill, the People’s Utility Rate Relief Act PURR.
“All are critical to the success of our Campaign To End Energy Poverty, which aims to expand nationally the Illinois standard of a 6% cap on household income for life-essential services of light and heat,” Davis said.
When thecommunity solar project launches, it will allow LMI household subscribers to save money on their electric bills. Subscribers to these community solar projects will see additional benefits, including: co-ownership of the solar co-op and accompanying profit sharing; a voice in the management of the clean energy cooperative; equitable workforce training and capacity development; and the opportunity to help create an equitable clean energy transition that provides meaningful benefits to people and protects the environment.
“We are delighted to have our three solar projects scored so highly by the Illinois Power Agency. This will ensure that the projects are completed and thereby demonstrate the power of solar sovereignty for ownership and wealth building by Blacks in distressed Black communities. And the power of significant middle-class job creation at scale, by Blacks in distressed Black communities,” said Rev. Tony Pierce, GEJC board member and CEO of Sun Bright Energy.
Launched in 2022, GEJC is owned by its solar subscribers and supporters and serves as a vehicle for economically and racially-just ownership of local clean energy, where low-income communities of color own their energy and benefit from the economic and political power that comes with owning energy generation. This win ensures that the co-op is one step closer to getting the benefits of the burgeoning clean energy transition in Illinois to underserved and marginalized communities in this age of climate crisis.
The co-op was founded by BIG alongside the following coalition of mission-aligned, community-based organizations in the Chicagoland area:
- Grow Greater Englewood
- People for Community Recovery
- Southeast Environmental Task Force
- Imani Village
- Community Transformation Ministries / Sun Bright Energy LLC / Community
- Transformation Partnership Power (CTP-Power)
- Claretian Associates
- North Lawndale Employment Network
- Chicago Environmental Justice Network (CEJN)
- Urban Juncture
- Greenleaf Advisors
Many of these organizations have been working together on energy justice issues in the Chicago area for decades, and have been seeking to implement opportunities for community-based solar since the passage of the landmark clean energy transition legislation, the CEJA, that set ambitious goals for the equitable transformation of the state’s energy portfolio by the year 2050.
“We’re really excited to be supporting GEJC in bringing community-owned solar to GEJC’s local communities in Illinois,” said Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, Cooperative Energy Futures general manager. “Through our co-op in Minnesota, we’ve seen the power of this model in uniting communities around a clean energy future that works for renters and low-income households and makes sure local residents own and get the benefits too.”
The three GEJC Community-Driven Community Solar projects selected by the Illinois Power Agency will now be presented to the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois public utility regulatory body in January 2024 for approval for Renewable Energy Credits (REC) contracts.
“We’re delighted to partner with Blacks in Green to help create new sources of renewable energy in Aurora and Romeoville through the Green Energy Justice Co-op,” said Vibhu Kaushik, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Energy, Utilities, and Storage at Prologis. “As a member of the local business community, Prologis is focused on working with our customers, local governments, and local partners like Blacks in Green to help create a vibrant and sustainable economy.”
News item from Blacks in Green