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Ameren plans to build a new solar farm in Peoria County

Ameren St Louis Overhead View 5.jpg
A rendering of the Ameren solar project in East St. Louis, set to be fully completed within the next month. This is one of two solar projects Ameren has planned for Illinois, the other is going to be somewhere in Peoria County.

Ameren distributes power throughout Illinois, but currently doesn’t generate any of their own power in-state. With the passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2021, Ameren is building two solar power generation sites.

The first, which Director of Technology Applications Brian Ripperdam said is about four to six weeks out from completion, is located in East St. Louis. The second site is going to be somewhere in Peoria County.

“This is a chance for us to show that we can build and manage solar facilities, it doesn't have to be an independent third party doing it,” said George Justice, vice president of electric operations and technical services. “And it gives us opportunities to invest in some of these communities that could really use the investment.”

The St. Louis site was vacant commercial property across the street from East St. Louis High School. Ripperdam said total reconstruction of the property into a solar field with filled-in foliage and educational opportunities for the high school students across the street is an example of the community investment that can come with construction.

Once a site is chosen, Ripperdam said it takes about 18 to 24 months to complete construction and get the facility running. Ameren hasn’t picked a plot in Peoria county yet; the utility has been looking at sites east of Peoria and some smaller sites in southern Peoria.

“Locating a site that has all the unique qualifications that we need has been a bit of a struggle,” said Ripperdam. “But we’re still investigating, actually reducing what we expect to be our footprint and hoping that we'll find a site.”

Ripperdam said the sites Ameren has been looking at are either larger farmland locations or smaller urban fields like the one in St. Louis. Whatever type of site is chosen, there are additional considerations, like setbacks, zoning requirements and city ordinances.

The site also is required to be within a zone designated as an “environmental justice” area — communities that have the most to gain from the creation of a solar farm.

“Typically, we would want, like I said, to fit into the community. So, an industrial area for solar fields might be a better fit than a residential area,” said Justice. “If it's not a benefit to the area that we're putting it in, we're not going to do that. So that's a prime consideration for us.”

On Oct. 18, Justice and Ripperdam gave a presentation to engineering students at Bradley University about the upcoming project. Justice said Bradley could be another opportunity for community investment through the solar field.

“Maybe we talk about using the engineering students to help develop a STEM curriculum for some of the local school systems, those sorts of things,” he said. “And we're open to a lot of things, but generally, it's a community service and educational opportunity.”

Wherever the Peoria County solar field ends up, Ripperdam and Justice are excited to be leading the way on the first Ameren-owned power generation facilities in the state.

“Renewables are obviously something that's very important for us. Getting into a carbon-free future is one of the goals of the legislation,” said Ripperdam. “So, moving that forward is important.”

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.