AP NEWS

Company sheds some light on plan for Lee County solar farm, says it could generate millions in taxes

May 4, 2019

DIXON – The proposed 100 megawatt solar farm in Steward would be one of the largest developments in the Midwest, and the company behind estimates it could generate $8.8 million in property tax revenue across 20 years.

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals heard the first round of testimony for the proposed project during a 3-hour meeting Thursday attended by around 2 dozen or so community members and surrounding landowners.

Junction Solar LLC is petitioning the county for a special-use permit to build the solar farm between Herman and Reynolds roads in Alto and Reynolds townships on about 760 acres of farmland owned by Larry and Julie Gittleson and Midwest Ag Investors LLC.

Junction Solar is an offshoot of Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy, which owns the Green River Wind Farm that spans more than 13,000 acres in Lee and Whiteside counties.

It would be a $121 million project, with the company estimated to spend about $14 million in the state and create around 120 construction jobs and five to eight full-time jobs, Geronimo’s Ben Adamich said, adding that the biggest benefit to the county would be property tax revenue.

They would put $20,000 a year toward local education projects, anticipate a property tax bill of $588,000 for the first year of the project, and a total $8.8 million of property tax over 20 years.

Breaking down the 2 decades, Adamich said $6.2 million would go to school districts, $620,000 for townships and $900,000 for the county.

Lee County State’s Attorney Matt Klahn asked Adamich how the project would fit with the county’s comprehensive plan of preserving prime farmland and promoting the agricultural economy.

Similar to other solar developers who had permits approved in the last year, Adamich said solar farms allow farmland to rest and improve soil health, which could revert back to crop production.

The solar arrays would be staked about 12 to 15 feet into the ground, and the company would plant a low-growing, pollinator-friendly grass on the land.

“It’s really a use that’s a good neighbor,” he said.

Prior to construction, which would take about a year to complete, the company would be required to enter an agricultural impact mitigation agreement with the state that’s meant to protect and minimize issues with farmland and drainage tile during construction and future decommissioning.

Three other people gave testimony on the project’s behalf relating to construction details, the lack of anticipated impact to property values and estimates on how the soil and environment would be improved.

The Zoning Board will continue to hear testimony at 7 p.m. Monday at the old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., and it might extend to another meeting.

The board will vote on a recommendation for the project after the proceedings finish, and the County Board will have the final say on the project.