I love our historic downtown and it’s small businesses. And I love the financial and environmental benefits that solar energy brings. In fact, as Energy Campaign Coordinator with the local non-profit Prairie Rivers Network and Manager of the Monticello Farmers’ Market, I’ve dedicated my career to promoting renewable energy and working to help bring economic opportunity to our community. And that’s why I loved the story published in the Piatt County Journal Republican last week entitled “Old Building But Modern Power Supply.”

The article describes the new solar array and energy efficiency measures on the downtown Monticello building that houses BeSpoke Gift Company, a local small business and one of our Market vendors. The investment in the solar array is expected to pay for itself in less than three years, thanks to falling solar prices, federal tax credits, state solar incentives, and depreciation. These opportunities are especially important for our small businesses that are housed in historic buildings, notorious for high energy costs.

The 136-year-old building on the Monticello square was built in ~1885, in the very same decade that Thomas Edison patented the light bulb and founded the Edison Electric Illuminating Company! By 1892, the Monticello Light and Power Company was building a power station to bring light to our city streets and residences. While it took another few decades to electrify our rural areas, the speed at which we brought power to our cities is quite amazing given the technology at the time.

Edison has been quoted as saying, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left!” 

It’s taken much longer than Edison would have ever hoped, and longer than our planet can bear, but the age of solar is here! The prices of solar equipment have fallen 89 percent since 2010. In 2020, renewable energy provided more power than coal in the United States for the first time, and over three quarters of new energy capacity came from renewable sources. According to Lazard’s annual report on the “levelized cost of energy,” utility scale wind and solar costs, even without subsidies, are now significantly lower than those for coal and gas generation, and less than half the cost of nuclear.

I am excited to see the spread of solar across our community and will continue to work with other advocates and community members locally and statewide to make that happen. We’ll soon be launching the 2021 “solar group buy program” that the City of Monticello and I helped expand to Piatt County in 2018. 

Illinois can also do more to advance solar, including opportunities for homeowners and small businesses, by passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act this Spring. The bill, written with input from communities across the state, would improve public health and the environment by removing pollution from the power sector, while expanding clean energy and new economic opportunities. Alternate policy proposals, like the one promoted by Ameren, would allow Ameren to build large solar farms, limiting opportunities for smaller projects like those on Bespoke and local farms. 

We brought electricity to the streets of Monticello just twelve years after the light bulb was patented! Imagine what we can do with today’s technologies to build a cleaner power sector by working together at home, in our community, state, and nation!


Amanda Pankau is a Piatt County resident, the manager of the Monticello Farmers Market, and is the energy campaign coordinator for the Prairie Rivers Network.

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