It was reported last week that while speaking to the Oak Park Village Board on May 9 regarding the rebuilding and widening of the Eisenhower Expressway, Pete Harmet of IDOT suggested the village explore the use of solar panels as part of the new ramp structures being proposed at Harlem Avenue and Austin Boulevard. He went on to say that while he wasn’t sure how much power the panels could generate, they might be able to contribute to powering new bridge lighting.

While it was refreshing to hear such innovative thinking, the idea to include solar panels as part of the renovation of the Eisenhower is something that should be seriously explored beyond just providing lighting for the bridges.

Solar power along highways in Europe has been implemented for years, and other communities in the U.S. are also looking at applications. The idea to include a system along the Eisenhower has been brought up at the public meetings as well as being discussed by a group of Oak Park residents. 

The PlanItGreen Community Solar Committee — which was formed to explore ways to meet the renewable energy goals of the Environmental Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest — has discussed options for solar panels along the Eisenhower, such as those pole-mounted or fixed to sound walls, which are capable of generating significant amounts of electricity. 

Partial funding for a large-scale solar array is potentially available from the new 12-month aggregation contract the village signed in October with Constellation Energy Services, which provides for the collection of 0.3 cents per kWh renewable energy fee estimated to generate about $400,000 per year.

So as plans move forward with the renovation of the Eisenhower, we encourage the village, IDOT and the community to consider exploring the integration of a large-scale solar power system into the design of the new roadway. If realized, the addition of a system, which will generate clean energy and directly benefit residents and/or the village, would be an exciting and innovative addition to a community that prides itself on environmental leadership.

The PlanItGreen Community Solar Committee

Join the discussion on social media!