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Solar projects surge as deadline looms

November 28, 2018

KANKAKEE — In recent months, Kankakee County’s zoning department has received dozens of requests for solar farms. The county has approved about all of them.

When all is said and done, the department expects the county to green-light 48 of them.

At a county board committee meeting last week, a member said he feared the consequences.

“We’re taking a lot of land out of farming, and that concerns me,” said Jim Tripp, R-Bourbonnais.

In response, county zoning official Delbert Skimerhorn said the last time he calculated, the proposed solar farms would cover a total of two square miles of the county’s 680.

With the exception of two of the applications, he said, the other solar farms would be on marginal or poor farmland.

Skimerhorn also said he expected the state to choose only a fraction of the applications for renewable energy credits, which is what solar farm companies pushing the recent projects are vying for. A lottery is expected in late February for the credits.

“Kankakee County may not get any,” Skimerhorn said during the monthly planning, zoning and agriculture committee meeting.

Board member George Washington, D-Kankakee, said his colleagues should avoid panicking about the number of solar farm applications.

“We have to keep in mind we’re talking about owners’ rights as well. We have to be careful about agreeing and disagreeing with decisions that are made,” Washington said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the latter part of the process.”

Under the supervision of the Illinois Power Agency, renewable energy credits will be chosen in a lottery. The state’s application deadline is in mid-January, which is the reason for the surge in applications in Kankakee County, a hotbed for recent solar industry activity.

“All signs at this point are that the number of applicants will be many times larger than the amount of funding available,” Anthony Star, director for the Illinois Power Agency, said in an interview Monday. “There are growing pains as the market opens up.”

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