The ray of hope for some residents of preventing the construction of a corporate solar farm on the outskirts of Eureka is quickly dimming.
On Sept. 26, the Woodford County Zoning Board of Appeals approved, for a second time, the March 21 application of SolAmerica Energy of Atlanta for a special use permit to operate a $2 million, two-megawatt 25-30-acre solar farm on land just south of Lakeview Acres Subdivision, southwest of Marshall Road.
Last month, the ZBA approved the application with a 4-to-1 vote, but, on Aug. 21, the Woodford County Board voted 10-4 to return the application to the zoning board for further review. Last week, it was volleyed back to the county board with a 3 to 2 vote. Curtis Heilman first voted for the application, but voted against it in September.
More than 350 residents have signed a petition opposing the solar farm, which threatens to impinge on the newly-developed subdivision and its potential for growth.
The land on which SolAmerica Energy intends to occupy is owned by Metamora resident Robert Hartman. Eureka Mayor Scott Zimmer said the city and the county have, for some time, hoped to reserve that property for residential development.
“When it comes to expanding, our utilities are already sitting there, and Woodford County’s long-range plan recognizes that they should expect cities to grow in areas that already have utilities and roads set in place,” Zimmer said. “Furthermore, it’s a safety concern, with 25 acres of solar panels, if there’s a tornado people are worried about their welfare.”
They are worried about their property values, as well, he said, and concerned with the loss of the aesthetic value they find living in a rural setting. Former city councilman Gene Rosetti and his wife, Sue, recently built a home on Marshall Road, in the southernmost region of Lakeview Acres Subdivision.
Some of the recently-built homes near them are still for sale, and many are questioning how potential buyers will react to a massive backyard solar farm.
According to Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger, Illinois law prohibits rejection of the proposal by the county board. They can either approve the application, or resubmit it to the ZBA for rejection or approval.
“There still is a lot to be considered here. We have new homes out there with a lot of families who want to enjoy the parks and lake and scenery,” Zimmer said. “There are only a few lots left now, and it’s quite obvious the city is going to expand in the direction of where the solar farm could be.”
In its application, SolAmerica described the solar farm as a “passive” power plant, in which noise levels will not exceed 40-60 decibels, “just above talking level”, as compared to the impact on property values with that of wind farms.
“While the impacts of a solar farm on neighboring property values have not been studied in-depth, numerous studies show the impact of wind energy generation on neighboring property values to be negligible,” the company wrote.
That’s 40-60 decibels too high for residents hoping to enjoy the peace and quiet of rural living, Zimmer said.
“It’ll be tied up for 30 years, and that’s a very long time. It’ll certainly tie our hands,” he said. “I’m going to continue to challenge this all the way through.”
The Woodford County Board will vote again on the SolAmerica application on Oct. 16 at 6:30 p.m.
—- Solar farm gets second nod from Woodford County zoning board —-