DANVILLE — If all goes as planned, Aqua Illinois’ solar farm could be completed by June.

Work started in late December with tree removals for the project.

GenPro Energy Solutions of Piedmont, S.D., with some local contractors to be used for land clearing, fencing, landscaping and other portions of the project, is working on the 8,000 solar panel farm with labor and onsite supervision.

Aqua will be purchasing electricity from solar farm developer Sol Systems of Washington, D.C. with the project. By doing so, Aqua expects to save about $100,000 a year or have about $4 million in energy savings during the next 25 years.

All electricity from the solar panels will be going straight to the water treatment plant.

“It basically will run our plant,” said Aqua Illinois Area Manager Andy Price.

“It’s a great project for us and our rate payers,” he added.

About 75 percent of the trees and growth have been removed from the site for the project, and 66 percent of the solar panels are on site.

Work will continue through the winter and into spring on the approximately nine acres of land north of Aqua’s water treatment plant, off Logan Avenue and Fairchild Street.

The Danville City Council in March 2020 reversed its initial denial, from 2019, of the 1.6 megawatt AC project after some changes were made to better protect neighbors off Logan Avenue and Westwood Place.

Project changes included: setback increased to 200 feet of the wooded buffer to residential neighbors, 10 foot of additional vegetative buffer, fixed solar panels tilted south and a 10 foot tall privacy fence behind the vegetative buffer.

Price expects a ribbon-cutting event on the project this summer.

The solar farm is the big project for Aqua Illinois this year, following its dam gate rehabilitation project being completed in 2020.

The $20 million dam project, replacing the 95-year-old gates at the Lake Vermilion Dam, continued despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The site is now empty, demobilized, where a job site trailer had been sitting for a couple years.

“It’s really amazing,” Price said of the project. “It’s been our diamond in the rough.”

He said with everything that went on with the project, “we found a way to overcome, (and be) on time and on budget.”

Price added that the project also was completed safely.

“That’s really been our shining light, so to say,” Price said.

As other companies did, Aqua too determined who could work from home with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Laptops were provided to supervisors and administrators.

Initially in-home work orders were halted early on in the pandemic, with only emergencies addressed.

Later, some staff started going back into the office, at half capacity, and they made sure employees had personal protective equipment.

“We just wanted everyone to feel as comfortable and safe as possible,” Price said.

He said 2020 was a tough year. Aqua also has tried to help families with bill payment assistance. Aqua was awarded about $800,000 in COVID-19 bill payment assistance relief statewide.

Price said other behind-the-scenes work will continue this year at Aqua, such as on pumps and equipment, and other upgrades and improvements at the water treatment plant.

Cyber security, fire hydrant and valve replacements are other areas Aqua continues to address.

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