Just Transition Milestone: Solar Power for Peoria’s ART Inc.

Peoria, Illinois has hit a new milestone in its efforts to transition away from fossil fuels. One of the projects funded through our Clean Air Act settlement with the owners of the E.D. Edwards power plant is done! Peoria’s Romain Arts & Culture Community Center has installed a solar array on its roof that will supply most of the Center’s power, save $10,000 a year on utilities, and allow the Center to invest the savings in hiring staff to better support community programming.

The settlement resolved our litigation over the plant’s illegal and dangerous soot pollution. It requires Edwards to close by the end of 2022 and provides for NRDC and its co-plaintiffs Respiratory Health Association and Sierra Club to distribute $8.6 million to nonprofits and agencies working in and around Peoria on solar energy, bus electrification, energy-efficiency improvements, lung health, and job training. We announced the sixteen projects chosen to receive settlement funds in February.

This is the first in a series of monthly blogs celebrating the Edwards grant projects and the great work our grantees are doing to promote public health and quality of life in the Peoria area.

The Romain Center is the brainchild of Jonathon and Nikki Romain, artists and cofounders of Peoria-based Artists ReEnvisioning Tomorrow (ART Inc.), which works to enhance young people’s quality of life through arts education and cultural programs. The Center is housed in a beautiful century-old former public school, the Greeley School, in Peoria’s North Valley Neighborhood. You can see Jonathon and Nikki talking about the Center’s work in this video.

Since buying the Greeley School building from Peoria Public Schools in 2018, the Romains have focused on modernizing its energy infrastructure and reinvesting the savings in the community. The building had been costing the school district tens of thousands a year in utility bills, and the Romains were determined to slash those costs. By the time they received the Edwards grant, they had already replaced the building’s archaic boilers with energy-efficient furnaces and upgraded roughly 500 light fixtures to LED.

The Edwards grant allowed the Romains to install a 282-solar panel array on the Center’s roof that will supply most of the Center’s electric needs, saving the Center at least $10,000 a year and hundreds of thousands over the array’s 30-year life. The panels were connected to the grid just before Thanksgiving, and you can see them in the video above, starting around the 3:30 mark.

The Center’s roof isn’t accessible to the general public, but the Romains are planning an exhibit inside the building that describes the panels’ environmental and financial benefits, for people to visit post-pandemic.

In the meantime, Nikki says ART Inc. has “taken time during covid-19 to revamp and show the community we’re here and committed.” The Center’s regular programming includes after school programs focused on STEAM-based learning; an early arts education program; an adult arts education program; a summer arts camp; a community garden; and a partnership with Peoria Public Schools though which the center provides teaching artists for the schools. During the pandemic and when it’s been safe to do so, they’ve welcomed a home school pod into the building for a few hours a day; offered distanced in-person dance classes; and hosted a mock trial program called Order in the Court in collaboration with a local lawyer.

Over the next decade, the Romains hope to transform Peoria into an artists’ hub. Jonathon imagines a thriving center for art and culture similar to that of Santa Fe, with a resulting influx of new residents to an area that has struggled to maintain its economy and population in recent years. ART Inc. is considering rehabilitating more property to further that goal, by acquiring lots and homes to convert to affordable artist residences.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to support Jonathon, Nikki, and everyone else at ART Inc. in their mission to better their community through art and culture. Stay tuned for more profiles of Edwards grantees as the settlement work continues.

About the Authors

Selena Kyle

Senior Attorney and Managing Litigator

Alyssa Brown

Program Assistant, Litigation

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