The Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN) is rolling out a comprehensive program to increase demand for and availability of renewable energy technologies across Illinois. Through a $3.7 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), IGEN will assist participating Illinois community colleges in conducting campus energy studies and constructing solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, renewable energy demonstration sites, and smart grid classrooms to aid in green jobs training programs. At the same time, IGEN is launching education and awareness programs for a variety of audiences ranging from middle school students to homeowners and businesses.
The funding comes from the Renewable Energy Resources Program (RERP), which DCEO administers to foster investment in and the development and use of renewable energy resources across the state. RERP is funded through the 1997 Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Coal Resources Development Law, which requires public utilities to charge a fee for public utility service to qualifying customers.
“Illinois community colleges represent every sector in the state—public, private, residential, business,” said IGEN executive director Julie Elzanati. “We have deep roots and connections to all aspects of our communities, so we have a unique ability to walk the talk by installing renewable energy ourselves and educating our communities as we do it. IGEN builds on the strength of the community college system, and with this type of funding we can utilize those strengths to promote renewable energy across our state.”
IGEN and Illinois community colleges are partnering with a variety of state and regional renewable energy-focused organizations to expand their efforts. For instance, IGEN is assisting the Illinois Solar Energy Association in its efforts to increase renewable energy education and outreach across the state and is working with Illinois State University’s Center for Renewable Energy to develop a Solar for Schools curriculum and teacher trainings for Illinois middle and high school teachers. Through a partnership with the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, HeartLands Conservancy, University of Illinois Chicago Energy Resources Center, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, IGEN is investigating the feasibility of establishing an anaerobic digester in Clinton County, Illinois. Anaerobic digestion would convert manure from several local dairy farms to produce biofuel.
In addition, IGEN is working with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) to develop three regional programs across the state to advance demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. The programs will connect Illinois-based product manufacturers, PV installation contractors, and credit unions or community banks in order to help Illinois residents in their pursuit of installing solar technology on their homes and businesses.
Southwestern Illinois College is a member of the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), a consortium of Illinois community colleges. IGEN creates and mobilizes innovative, collaborative partnerships among higher education institutions, businesses, and community organizations to establish and share sustainable best practices, promote energy efficiency and clean energy, and drive growth in the green economy.