THE ISSUE: The Streator solar farm 

OUR VIEW: A welcome addition to the grid

It was a little surprising to hear famous inventor Thomas Edison cited as a solar power advocate. But that was the case at last week's dedication of the new solar farm east of Streator.

Vic Abate, vice president of renewables at GE Energy, which created the solar panels used at the farm, quoted the company's founder when reflecting on the future of energy.

"'I'll put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power,'" Abate said, using Edison's quote. "'I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.'"

That wasn't just idle talk on Edison's part.

When Edison made the comment to industrialists Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1931, it was nearly 20 years after the 1912 unveiling of his energy self-sufficient "Suburban Residence" in West Orange, N.J.

The model home was designed to be heated, cooled and all electric apparatus operated from a bank of 27 battery cells in the basement that was to be charged with a wind turbine.

For some reason the large power companies did not embrace Edison's vision. But times have changed.

The 140-acre solar farm at the southeast corner of East 21st and North 15th roads in Otter Creek Township is the largest in the Midwest with 155,000 solar modules along 3,700 racks.

So what does that mean in terms of energy?

When the solar farm became operational last July it was producing about 20 megawatts of power at the peak of the sunny afternoon. It is expected to produce 200 megawatt hours per acre, which is estimated to be enough to power about 2,900 average homes annually. In comparison, wind

turbines produce 13,500 megawatt hours per acre.

At the dedication, Michael Polsky — the president, chief executive officer and founder of Invenergy — said he expects the solar farm to be around for decades. And for good reason.

"Once construction is complete and capital is paid off, it produces at close to zero cost," Polsky said. "The benefit of that is we can lower the cost to consumers. Renewable energy makes sense. It will always be there, unless there is a natural disaster."

That makes good sense for Invenergy and GE Energy, but it also gives something for consumers to think about.

According to the 1912 New York Times article about Edison's "Suburban Residence," the technology would allow homeowners to be "utterly and for all time independent of the nearness or farness of the big electric companies."

Hmm. How about another look at the "Suburban Residence" plans?