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Illinois solar production improving, coal hanging on

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(WSIL) -- Illinois is making big leaps in national solar production.

In 2020, Illinois jumped to 17th in the country in solar production, according to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association released last month. In 2017, Illinois ranked 33rd in the nation.

The report also projected a 1700% increase in solar capacity in the next five years. But the rise in solar energy is causing concern in coal country Southern Illinois.

"My concern is 50 years down the road, what happens to these panels?" said State Rep. Dave Severin (R-Benton). "What do we do when their time has run out."

Along with pollution, Severin's other concerns are job creation and the state's ability to store renewable energy.

"What's very concerning to me is the battery capacity," Severin said. "There isn't enough battery capacity as we speak for all these solar panels to be able to store power."

The city of Carbondale recently installed dozens of solar panels atop city hall and behind the public safety center. Mayor Mike Henry says the move saves the city $50,000 a year.

Mayor Henry adds the city wants to lead Southern Illinois in solar energy. But until sustainable energy models are fully developed, Henry says there's still a need for fossil fuels like coal.

"The future is that we'll deplete our coal resources or we'll just quit using coal. But how long that takes? I don't know," Henry said.

In 2019, Illinois ranked fifth in coal consumption and fourth in coal production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About 6.5% of all U.S. coal produced that year came from Illinois.

But U.S. coal production took a dip. Nationwide production dropped 24.4%. between 2019 and 2020. Illinois' production fell 30.5% in that same time frame.

But Severin says shutting the light off on coal in Southern Illinois won't be possible anytime soon.

"If you look at the data, you'll find out that we still need our fossil fuels," Severin said. "If someone thinks that you can just close coal mines and just replace it today with solar and with wind, they're kidding themselves."

Severin says Illinois senate lawmakers are discussing a bill to address concerns on alternative energies. Severin says lawmakers must craft bipartisan legislation so fossil fuels and new energy sources can co-exist.

"I'm not anti-solar at all. I just want to make sure we're doing this correctly," Severin said.

Mayor Henry says the city plans to build more solar panels at the southeast water treatment plant. That project is expected to be done within the next 45 days.

"It's going to take a while before solar can really provide 100% or anywhere close to that of the nation's needs," Henry said.

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Danny Valle

Danny Valle anchors News 3 This Morning on Saturday and Sunday and reports Monday-Wednesday at News 3 WSIL. He joined the team in 2017 as a morning producer, before becoming an anchor in 2018, and reporter in 2019. Danny graduated from SIU-Carbondale in 2015, earning a Bachelor’s in Electronic Journalism with a specialization in Sports Broadcasting.

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