Heavy industry has long polluted the air in East St. Louis, but early next year, for the first time in the city’s history, a clean energy facility will also be up and running.
Ameren Illinois plans to build a $10.2 million solar field on 17 acres of land across from East St. Louis High School. It will distribute enough energy to Ameren’s local grid to power 500 homes, and is the first solar project owned and operated by Ameren in the past 25 years, reports the Belleville News-Democrat.
“This facility will bring local tax revenue to the area,” said Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea. “This will contribute to the State of Illinois’ renewable energy goals and bring technology to the region that will allow East St. Louis to lead the way in introducing green energy.”
Belt and other officials helped make the deal possible through negotiations last summer on Illinois’ new clean energy law, Ameren Illinois President Richard Mark said.
The law allowed utility companies to own and operate solar fields, a provision that some opposed because they wanted to see smaller individual and community projects dominate clean energy development.
East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III said the project represents “the transformation from blight to brilliance.” The land, which once housed shops, had been empty for decades, he said.
“We’re going to do all those things that they said we couldn’t do in the city of champions. We’re the city of champions,” Eastern said at a groundbreaking event. “Champions always, always find, always a way to do it.”
Ameren will use a diverse local workforce to build the East St. Louis Solar Center, Mark said. Ameren has so far hired 26% from “diverse” companies, Mark said.
Belt and his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly have pledged to ensure that “people who look like the people of East St. Louis” have union jobs at sites like Ameren’s.
NAACP Illinois State President Teresa Haley said Ameren continues to “make a difference” by investing in communities that have been neglected. But she called on residents of East St. Louis to make sure they see various workers on site once construction gets underway.
“There’s nothing worse than driving past a site in our communities and we don’t see people who look like us,” Haley said. “We are going to pay attention to what is happening and we are going to hold Ameren accountable as well. … So if you pass by an Ameren site and you don’t see the diversity, be sure to let the NAACP know.
Students at the nearby high school will look out the window and see the possibility, Mayor Eastern said.
Ameren plans to build a demonstration area at the site where students from East St. Louis and area can learn about solar and renewable energy.
The project will require up to 50 construction works and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, according to Ameren. The company will pay approximately $50,000 in property taxes annually to the site.
Ameren purchased the property in 2015 from Truelight Baptist Church for $114,000, according to St. Clair County records.