Controversial plans for a community solar farm on the outskirts of Eureka have been shuttled back to the Woodford County Zoning Board for further review.
On Aug. 21, the Woodford County Board voted 10-4 to return the 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.
The Cruger Township farmland is owned by Metamora resident Robert Hartman.
“We got the best turnout we could have expected at Tuesday’s meeting, but it was a surprise to everybody that they chose to send it back to zoning,” City of Eureka Mayor Scott Zimmer said. “I was actually pleased that they sent it back.”
Pleased, Zimmer said, because the county board was directed to either approve the permit, or send it back, according to state law. Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger informed the board of the law, which prohibits rejection of the proposal.
“The Woodford statute states that the county board has the ability to approve, reject or send back to the ZBA their decision,” Zimmer said. “The state statute says they have the ability to approve or send back and doesn’t state that they have the ability to reject it in plain writing, so as the state’s attorney advised that they approve or send back.”
In its March 21 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 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 subdivision is our most popular, fastest growing subdivision in the city, for good reasons. There are new homes out there with a lot of families who want to enjoy the parks and lake with easy access to the highway,” Zimmer said. “There are only a small handful of lots, and it’s only reasonable to think the city’s going to expand in the direction of where they want to put the solar farm.”
That land, he said, has been slated as future residential by the city in its comprehensive plan, and has been acknowledged as such by the county board.
In December 2016, Illinois state legislators passed Senate Bill 2814, The Future Energy Jobs Act, which includes a community solar program that will allow citizens to implement, and benefit from, privately-owned solar farms.
The bill calls for 25 percent of Illinois power production to be renewable by 2025, and allows for communities to build 2 megawatt solar farms, which generally require around 16 acres to install 7,000 3-foot-by-6-foot solar panels.
Each project costs developers around $3.3 million to build a 2 megawatt solar farm, comprised of 7,000 solar panels on around 15 acres of land. A solar farm of that size can generate enough electricity to power about 500 homes in a year.
For solar power to be returned to the power grid, solar farms must be situated near a three-phase line. Single-phase lines are often located in rural areas, where power loads are lighter. Solar-generated electricity is returned to the power grid from the three-phase line, where it is redistributed to the consumer.
The solar farms may grow in size, however. In 2021, Illinois will review the success of the project, and allowances may be made for the plants to increase output and install battery rows and other equipment meant to store power.
Since the bill’s passage, a glut of applications has been submitted to counties throughout the state. Trajectory Energy of HIghland Park has also negotiated with Peoria County on four solar farms; two near Brimfield and two west of Peoria near the Peoria County Correctional Center. Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, Calif. submitted plans to the Tazewell County Zoning Board of Appeals in January to build a 2 megawatt facility on 30 acres of land near the intersection of Illinois Route 29 and East Manito Road. Cypress Creek also has four bids in with the McLean County Board.
The public will have the opportunity to further rebut the proposal before the zoning board from 6-8 p.m. at its September 25 meeting. SolAmerica’s petitions and notices may be viewed at www.woodford-county.org, under the “Government” tab, followed by the “Zoning Board of Appeals” tab.
— Eureka solar farm plan takes step back for further review —