Swift Current Energy is ramping up construction this spring for its 800 MWdc Double Black Diamond solar project in central Illinois. The company has contracted St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Companies as the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor.
Swift Current has also selected First Solar to provide the solar modules for the project and Nextracker to provide the smart solar tracker solutions for the project. The majority of the project’s 1.6 million solar panels will be manufactured in the United States.
In coordination with local unions, the project is hiring approximately 435 craft workers to construct the Double Black Diamond solar project, with crews having already begun sitework. Peak workforce is expected to be onsite for approximately 14 months, beginning in late spring 2023. The project is expected to reach commercial operation by fall 2024, with Swift Current continuing to own and operate the facility.
“As the developer and long-term owner of Double Black Diamond, we are thrilled to prepare for full mobilization of the more than 400 skilled workers who will construct this project,” said Eric Lammers, CEO of Swift Current Energy. “The Double Black Diamond solar project brings together American-based businesses McCarthy, First Solar and Nextracker to construct a market-leading project that we hope will serve as an example for other projects to come.”
The project has set apprenticeship, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion hiring goals, which are being facilitated by local unions for carpenters, laborers, operators, electricians and crew leads. In partnership with the unions, McCarthy will train workers who are inexperienced in utility-scale solar construction to assist with future workforce needs and accommodate the exponential regional and national growth of the solar industry.
“With the expansive growth of utility-scale solar construction throughout the country, we are thrilled to be able to facilitate the development of a more diverse workforce while also supporting the state’s sustainability goals,” said Scott Canada, executive VP of McCarthy’s renewable energy and storage team. “Double Black Diamond truly represents a community impact project for the region.”
McCarthy is responsible for the design, procurement, construction and commissioning of the solar facility, which represents the largest solar energy project in Illinois and will significantly enhance the region’s sustainable energy infrastructure.
“This isn’t simply an example of American solar,” said Georges Antoun, chief commercial officer, First Solar. “It’s an example of the potential for responsible solar to power growth and decarbonization in the U.S.”
First Solar is expanding its U.S. manufacturing footprint, which currently stands at over 5 GW of annual nameplate capacity with three operating factories in Ohio. The company is expected to reach over 10 GW by 2025, when it completes its new $1.1 billion factory in Alabama and a $185 million expansion of its existing capacity in Ohio. First Solar is also investing $270 million in a new research and development innovation center in Ohio.
“It’s projects like these that have America reclaiming its legacy as an energy powerhouse,” said Dan Shugar, Nextracker founder and CEO. “We are building this country’s energy security with American-made solar panels on Pittsburgh-made steel.”
As part of their expansion efforts, Nextracker has recently established local manufacturing facilities in Chicago and Harvey, Illinois, and Pittsburgh, overhauling their supply chain and reshoring operations, going from 1 GW to 25 GW of domestic production.
Once operational, the project will provide reliable, renewable energy and offset the equivalent emissions of more than 85,000 Illinois households per year. In collaboration with Constellation, it was announced in August that the city of Chicago would be a key end-user for the Double Black Diamond solar project.
“As one of Double Black Diamond’s largest end users, the city of Chicago is proud to support a project that will generate solar energy right here in Illinois and will be constructed according to our shared labor and equity goals,” said Angela Tovar, chief sustainability officer in Chicago’s Office of Climate and Environmental Equity. “Once complete, Double Black Diamond will be a key component in making Chicago one of the largest U.S. cities to power its municipal operations using 100% clean, renewable power while driving meaningful community benefits to our residents.”
Starting in 2025, the city will partially source its large energy uses such as Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport as well as certain other large facilities with renewable energy from the project. Additionally, the project is expected to bring $100 million in tax revenue to Sangamon and Morgan counties in central Illinois, where the project is located.
“This clean energy solution will positively impact the city of Chicago and Illinois communities in the transition to a more sustainable future,” said Jim McHugh, chief commercial officer, Constellation.
Additionally, State Farm and PPG will purchase zero-emission, renewable energy from the Double Black Diamond solar project. Illinois-based State Farm will procure approximately 103,000 MWh of energy per year from Constellation, as part of the insurance company’s continued efforts at reducing its overall impact on the environment.
— Solar Builder magazine