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Illinois Railway Museum seeks help with solar project

Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:37 p.m. CDT

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UNION – The Illinois Railway Museum has started plans to build a 5-acre renewable solar farm that would dramatically reduce the museum’s electrical costs and completely power its demonstration railroad through sunlight.

If completed, the 850-kilowatt solar project would become one of the largest solar farms in the state, museum officials said. It would include more than 3,000 solar panels, generating 1,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year.

But officials are seeking the community’s help, after announcing a pledge drive last week that seeks donations from individuals, businesses and foundations who support the Union museum and green energy.

“The major incentive with this project is to save money, so we could spend that money on our mission instead of electricity,” said Max Tyms, superintendent of the museum’s DC Line.

Area volunteers dedicated to railway history formed the museum, which strives to educate and demonstrate the importance the railroad played in the development of Chicago and the country.

The 5-acre solar farm would reduce the museum’s electricity costs by at least $65,000 and the museum’s carbon dioxide emissions by 21,000 metric tons a year.

The museum also would join a growing trend of Illinoisans embracing renewable, solar energy.

Homeowners and businesses across Illinois invested nearly $27 million in solar energy installation in 2012, ranking the state 13th nationally in solar capacity, according to data from the Illinois Solar Energy Association.

The museum primarily preserves and restores steam, diesel and heavy electric trains. Museum visitors can ride the historic machines along the museum’s 5-mile demonstration railroad, located between Union and Huntley.

Tyms said the museum’s electrified railroad would be the largest in the world completely powered by natural sunlight, if it can secure the funding for the solar farm. Officials need $1.2 million to cover the local costs of the proposed $3.5 million solar farm.

Tyms also is waiting to hear from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity on two grant applications that would cover the majority of the project’s costs.

The savings generated from the solar power would be used to restore railway equipment and expand the museum’s educational programs geared to both students and families, Tyms said.

He said he will start networking with businesses and area foundations in the coming months to fulfill the museum’s pledge to raise $1.2 million. The museum hopes the solar farm would be operational by the summer 2014, Tyms said.

“In all likelihood, if we couldn’t raise the money, the project would likely die,” Tyms said.

Want to help?

Interested in donating to the Illinois Railway Museum and its solar farm project? Contact the museum at 815-923-4391 or email Max Tyms at mtyms@irm.org.

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