Chicago-Rockford Airport to install largest airport solar project

Chicago-Rockford Airport to install largest airport solar projectThe Chicago-Rockford International Airport will soon be home to the largest airport solar installation in the country.

Chicago-based New Generation Power got clearance from the FAA and the Department of Energy to move forward with a 20-megawatt solar installation on 70 acres at the airport in Rockford, Ill.

“We are looking to ramp this up to a 62-megawatt project eventually,” said Michael Pontarelli, New Generation Power vice president of project development.

He said the process to get approval was arduous and time consuming, but the public has been overwhelmingly supportive and that there were no in-person or online comments against the project during the government-mandated public comment periods, which is virtually unheard of in processes like this one.

“I was really surprised no one spoke against it at all, and no one stood up and said they didn’t understand what we were doing or that they didn’t know what solar was,” Pontarelli said.

The state and the City of Rockford teamed up to make the project happen, Pontarelli said.

New Generation Power will use panels from the new Wanxiang America solar plant in Elgin, Ill. The plant has the capacity to build 30 megawatts worth of solar panels a year. But it’s expected that the Wanxiang plant will expand as the airport and other projects call for more locally manufactured solar panels.

Pontarelli said he expects the newly formed Chicago-Rockford Solar Partners LLC. to be able to install 1 to 1.5 megawatts of solar per month, so the project will most likely be complete within 18 months.

Ameren Illinois signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with the LLC to buy the power.

The project works as a solid public-private partnership because the city of Rockford and its airport authority were willing and eager to work on developing solar resources, Pontarelli said.