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State

Work on University of Illinois solar field could start this year

CHAMPAIGN – University of Illinois officials said they hope work could begin later this year on a field of solar panels that will ultimately supply about 2 percent of the school’s electricity.

The nearly 21-acre “solar farm” is a key part of the university’s renewable energy efforts, according to a report by the Champaign News-Gazette.

The project, which had been set to begin construction last summer, was delayed because of concerns from state purchasing officials who questioned the public-private partnership between the school and Phoenix Solar Inc., which is based in San Ramon, Calif.

Under the terms of the deal, Phoenix Solar will design, build and operate the farm for the first 10 years. The Champaign school will spend about $1.5 million a year to buy the power that’s generated from the panels. After the first decade, the project will be turned over to the school.

The newspaper reports that state procurement officers have now signed off on the complex financial arrangement.

Morgan Johnston, sustainability coordinator for UI Facilities and Services, said that gives the school the OK to move forward with the project.

The panels are expected to take more than seven months to install.

“We are absolutely counting on it lasting at least 20 years total, and it’s likely to last longer than that,” she said.

The University of Illinois is hoping to have 5 percent of its electricity come from renewable resources by 2015.

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