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Zoning Board makes recommendations on five solar farms

August 3, 2018

DIXON – The Lee County Zoning Board gave favorable recommendations for four out of five solar farms looking to develop in the county and talked about setting more specific criteria when it comes to prime farmland.

Two proposals were made from California-based FFP IL Community Solar LLC and the other three were from Virginia-based Summit Ridge Energy.

For FFP, one 2-megawatt solar farm would be 16 aces on Paw Paw Road in Willow Creek Township, and the other would be on about 19 acres in the same area. The company is leasing the land from Kirk and Michelle Burnett on about 68 and 63 acres they own, respectively.

Project Manager Ed Switzer said the company has pursued about 1,000 different leases since the state passed the Future Energy Jobs Act in late 2016, which requires utility companies to get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, and it will basically be a lottery for what projects get picked up by the utility.

The board rejected the 19-acre proposal Thursday in a 3-2 vote because it would take away highly productive, tillable soil that’s already being farmed.

Board members approved the other and discussed how they need to find a balance between letting farmers do what they want with their land and preserving prime soil that should be farmed.

Solar farm companies plant low-growing grasses and allow the ground to rest, so it doesn’t hurt the preservation aspect, but it does change the agricultural economy of the area if a property is no longer being farmed.

“To me, Class A soil is the breaking point,” board member Mike Pratt said after reviewing the high production index for the project.

Summit Ridge’s proposals, which are being made by three landowners, were all approved, and though one site scored as high quality farmland, the land isn’t productive because of runoff water from nearby Interstate 88.

Basically, land can have Class A soil but not be farmable.

Harold Wiggins is looking to set aside about 20.7 acres of the 135-acre property at 1572 U.S. Route 52 in Dixon; John Lahman is proposing about 20 acres of a 42-acre property at 1848 Reynolds Road in Franklin Grove; and Lawrence Crawford is proposing two systems on about 38 acres of a 150-acre property at 1658-1672 Red Brick Road in Dixon.

A 2-megawatt system can deliver power to 300 to 350 homes.

The county has a Land Evaluation Site Assessment score, which gauges the richness of farmland in the county, and anything higher than 224 is considered prime farmland that has restricted uses.

The Crawford land scored a 238, but the board accounted for other circumstances, the I-88 runoff.

The county’s solar farm ordinance states that a decision cannot be made solely on the LESA score – the entirety of the project needs to be considered.

Last month, the County Board went against a recommendation to deny a solar farm proposal because of its high LESA score.

All five of the recommendations will go to the County Board at its Aug. 21 meeting.

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