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Illinois Smart Solar hosts businesses and organizations at Malcolm X College to educate usage of solar energy in Chicago neighborhoods. Photo Credit: Mary L. Datcher

Most recently leaders from community organizations, business owners and advocates for solar energy gathered for a special think tank meeting to discuss ways to access solar energy for their communities.

Illinois Smart Solar (ISSA) hosted the meeting at Malcolm X College; sponsored in part by ComEd to educate attendees on the importance of working with various partners to bring solar energy to their communities.

President and CEO of the Westside Ministers Coalition, Dr. Phalese Binion attended the ISS meeting. “I’m here in the interest of helping our community—building up our community. So much of our funding that our people receive is going to utilities. This is a way when explained, that we could utilize vacant lots where solar panels can be built to benefit the neighborhood,” said Dr. Binion. “It can benefit the block and the people on the block. It’s another way to financially help our non-profit organizations because budgets are being cut and no one wants to give us funding but our assignment has not changed. We have to be creative in tapping into other avenues of assistance.”

Alicia Ponce is the Founder and Principal of AP Monarch, LLC, an architecture and interior design firm that works with corporate, community organizations and single home owners bringing sustainability in their work and living spaces.

She said, “Solar is huge and policy is even bigger. There are a lot of unknowns just being out there with clients, community organizations and homeowners. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. I think this is a great way to get the ball rolling especially in Illinois. You hear what’s going on in other parts of the country and we want to be there on the ground level.”

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Westside Ministers Coalition President Dr. Phelese A. Binion shares concerns with community leaders at ISS meeting.

Currently, Illinois is behind in the U.S. when it comes to initiating more solar energy accessibility. The limitations of sunshine during the winter months are among some of the typical concerns but gradually Illinois has followed the renewable energy market such as the one in New Jersey. As policy advocates work to make investments by energy developers similar to other states through credits and incentives—community alliances are being formed.

Mark Falcone is the Director of External Affairs for ComEd. He was on hand at the meeting and feels it’s important for people to become educated about what changes and benefits solar energy can play in everyday lives.

“If you look at how much solar there is in Illinois—there’s not much. It’s not really a market here. We are working with legislators in Springfield. So, this is a small part of the legislation to try to put things in place so that it comes to Illinois. The question is who benefit and who doesn’t is kind of mute. You have to get it to come to Illinois,” he said. “Some solar companies think it’s really great and some others have concerns with it. They have to work that out amongst themselves on how that work.”

Working with communities such as Austin in recognizing the benefits of solar energy can be transformative in savings for low disparity areas in the future. Once affordable for the middle to upper class consumers, solar panel installation and usage has become both viable and cost effective with suppliers making it less costly in most urban inner cities.

For Dr. Binion, being a part of the ISS alliance is another way for the Westside Ministers Coalition to bring hope to a neighborhood that has witnessed its fair share of challenges.

“We host different roundtables working with World Vision to empower each other and make a difference in each other’s lives. Austin is the largest community in the city of Chicago but look at our crime rate because there’s hopelessness. We have to bring hope back.”

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