Illinois Railway Museum looks toward public to power solar farm project

UNION – Solar-powered demonstration trains in Union may never happen unless the community can spark a slow-moving $2.85 million renewable energy project at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Since last summer, the museum has been securing grants to cover 60 percent of the $2.85 million price tag to build a 5-acre renewable solar farm designed to dramatically reduce electrical costs and completely power the museum’s demonstration trains.

Officials have recently begun contacting individual donors and businesses to cover the remaining costs. The museum ultimately needs $1.14 million from the community to cover the green energy project, said Max Tyms, superintendent of the museum’s DC Line.

“This is a way of continuing support for the museum,” Tyms said. “If you give to the solar farm, it will function for decades and it will reduce our electricity costs. We can put those savings to better use other than just paying ComEd for electricity.”

Since announcing the project last spring, museum officials have refined the costs of the solar farm, originally estimated at $3.5 million total. They initially thought the more than 3,000 proposed solar panels could be turned on by this coming summer.

If completed, the 850-kilowatt solar project would become one of the largest solar farms in the state, museum officials have said.

The solar farm’s environmental benefits would eliminate 775 tons of carbon dioxide, roughly 3,900 pounds of nitrous oxide and 10,100 pounds of sulfur pollution each year, Tyms said.

“That is equivalent to planting 19,000 trees,” he said.

The all-volunteer museum primarily preserves and restores steam, diesel and heavy electric trains.
School children and other museum visitors can ride the historic trains along the museum’s 5-mile demonstration railroad, located between Union and Huntley.

“This solar farm expands our educational offerings,” Tyms said. “We are not just teaching these children the history of trains. Now, we can teach and demonstrate the science and technology of trains.”

Individuals interested in learning about the project or about making a donation can visit the museum’s solar farm website at www.irmsolarfarm.com.

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