The Windy City Aims to Become the Sunny City


Solar is increasingly being seen as a desirable asset for homeowners. That’s not just in top solar states like California and New Jersey. Illinois, not known for huge amounts of sunshine, is also getting in on the action. And Chicago is its shining star — or should we say, sun.

Last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the Chicago Solar Express, a streamlined residential solar permitting program guaranteeing a permit in just one day. At Solar Power International, where he made the announcement, speakers promised Chicago would soon move from being known as the Windy City to the Sunny City.

That seems to be happening. From large to small solar, Chicago is making a serious effort to let the sunshine in. The ICA Greenrise building, a Chicago landmark, is aiming to become a solar leader by installing nearly 500 solar panels. Meanwhile, for homeowners there’s help from the Solar Chicago group buying program. The program lets homeowners in the Chicago metropolitan area go solar at a discount of about 25%, for $3.49 per watt.

Marilee and Larry Spatz are getting in on the solar action in Chicago, though their goal is to be an example for the rest of the nation. Through their company MarLar Properties, they recently completed a “solar rehabbed house” in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb. They’re planning four more solar rehab houses, in addition to converting another house to geothermal energy. And they’re doing it in part as a sound financial strategy.

“We are very excited to bring solar electric and geothermal systems to our houses,” said Larry Spatz. “From an environmental standpoint, we like to know that our houses are making a positive impact on the environment. From a real estate investment standpoint, the systems help increase value for renting or selling our houses.”

MarLar Properties purchases, redesigns, and remodels homes in the Chicago area and rents them to professionals and families. The solar PV systems MarLar uses are grid interactive and help power the houses. The systems also provide back-up energy in the event of local power failures.

Seeing the potential of the real estate market combined with the need for green energy systems, the Spatzes have also started an experimental model program with Universal Solar, a Rockford-based solar/technology firm, to add solar power and geothermal energy to houses. They hope the program will provide a model to encourage solar-powered homes nationally.

It’s part of their new company, The Solar and Green Energy Group. The company will bring together real estate brokers, building contractors, designers, architects, bankers, geothermal specialists, a solar expert, and Universal Solar. It will be a solutions and design build company with the goal of promoting eco-friendly energy efficiency.

Larry states, “I am a very small fish trying to make a ripple. It’s about preserving the planet for my grandchildren and their children.”