The Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar (The Sunny Awards) is a $100,000 prize competition that recognizes community solar projects and programs that employ or develop best practices to increase equitable access to the meaningful benefits of community solar for subscribers and their communities.

Community solar is any solar project or purchasing program in which the benefits of a solar project flow to multiple customers such as individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and other groups, within a certain geographic area. Community solar projects and programs can vary significantly in their structure, implementation, and benefits they provide. The best practices of the projects and programs recognized by the Sunny Awards will provide a blueprint for community solar developers, state energy offices, utilities, and others to help achieve the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) target to power the equivalent of five million households with community solar by 2025, generating $1 billion in electricity bill savings.

IACAA is thrilled to learn that two of our member agencies were recognized during the Sunny Awards. We reached out to Kathy Walk, C.E.F.S. Economic Opportunity Corp.; Minday Browning, Embarras River Basin Agency; and Jennifer Schmidt, Illinois Solar for All, to learn more about their contributions to the promotion of solar energy in Illinois. Here’s what they had to say!

Kathy Walk, Energy Program Director, C.E.F.S. Economic Opportunity Corp.

We were incredibly surprised but honored to have our work in community solar recognized at a national level! We realized from our previous grassroots educational efforts that our customers were interested in the benefits of solar and how they could participate. It was through our partnership with Nexamp that our LIHEAP customers were given the opportunity to become subscribers to a nearby community solar project in Urbana. We are most pleased that we could provide our customers a way to save money on their utility bills that also benefits our environment.  

Jennifer Schmidt, Program Manager, Illinois Solar for All

The Illinois Power Agency is proud that Illinois Solar for All (ILSFA) is being recognized nationally for the impressive savings being offered to income-eligible households and the expansion of community solar opportunities to communities that would otherwise be excluded from the benefits of Illinois’ growing solar market.  Under Illinois’ Climate and Energy Jobs Act, ILSFA was expanded to yearly allocations exceeding $66 million, and we’re excited to see that turn into more eligible households all over Illinois reducing their energy costs by installing solar for their homes and subscribing to community solar projects.  The Program is developing a number of initiatives to connect ILSFA opportunities with eligible households statewide, and we hope CAA staff and interested individuals will sign up for our Program updates and reach out to our Program Administrator, Elevate, at or 1.888.970.ISFA to connect with the Program and find out what ILSFA options are available for your local customers and service providers.  As a CCAP with 13 years prior experience of energy assistance work with PIPP, LIHEAP, and utility fuel funds, it brings me so much joy and pride to have taken that experience and passion to the next level to contribute to growing a program that is not only addressing household energy burdens, but building communities by supporting development and jobs, while advancing Illinois’ clean energy goals.

Mindy Browning, Energy Assistance Coordinator, Embarras River Basin Agency

For several years I have seen a need to bring clean energy to the United States. I knew it would be an uphill battle with the expense, so as legislation started being drafted that could help our customers see savings from solar, I become very excited. When we heard of an opportunity to partner with Illinois Solar for All and bring education about solar to our customers, I jumped at the chance. Then, when we were approached by Nexamp to help our customers actually get onboard the project at Urbana, I think I was close to tears. Knowing that we are bringing a service to our customers, who are the most energy burdened to start with, that can save them money and make life better for all of us, is truly one of my dreams coming to fruition. Nexamp won the actual award for their Urbana project, but listed us as partners in their efforts. I was actually in San Diego when the announcement was made, so I was both shocked and honored to be recognized as a part of something so wonderful.