Hearing officer recommends approval of 3 more DeKalb County solar farm projects

July 13, 2018

SYCAMORE – Despite concerns from neighboring residents, three more large-scale solar battery projects received a preliminary recommendation at a public hearing Thursday.

Ron Klein, DeKalb County public hearing officer, said he would recommend the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee approve applications that Sunvest Solar Inc. submitted for the three projects in the northwestern part of the county, one in Franklin Township and two in Kingston Township. The committee likely will consider the plans at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 25 at the DeKalb County Legislative Center Gathertorium,

200 N. Main St. If the plans get the OK, the full DeKalb County Board will consider them for approval.

LaVerna Lyons, 62, lives off Pleasant Hill Road in Kingston Township, just north of two of the proposed 2-megawatt, almost dozen-acre solar energy projects at the southeast and northeast corners of Route 72 and Pleasant Hill Road. She said she’s frustrated that the people who can approve the projects aren’t the ones who have to live near them.

Lyons is concerned about having to look at the proposed solar farms, which would be more than 400 feet from her door. Another concern was how the project and other potential projects would affect property values.

“So we’re going to be boxed in, and you’re telling me our property values are not going to be affected?” Lyons said. “I find that hard to believe.”

Wisconsin-based Sunvest wants to build three 2-megawatt solar energy developments, covering between 10 and 12 acres each, on Pearl Street in Franklin Township, along with the two farms at Route 72 and Pleasant Hill in Kingston. All of the land is zoned for agriculture, and Sunvest plans to rent the ground from current property owners.

Bill French, regional director of project development for Sunvest, said each project would take a year and a half to complete once the company receives special use permits and is selected by the state’s community solar energy program. He said construction on its own would take two to three months.

French said the company planned to meet with each neighbor of the projects and address any concerns they may have.

“We’d like to be a good neighbor to them as best as we can,” French said.

Tim Polz, senior vice president of development at Sunvest, said the community solar energy arrays would be able to power about 400 homes a project. He said anyone within the ComEd service territory, depending on individual power usage, would be eligible to join the Adjustable Block Program through the Illinois Power Agency if they wanted to use renewable energy from the solar projects.

Polz said solar gardens could spur economic development, as well, because they would increase the value of the farmland they use. He said each of the company’s potential developments should generate between $12,000 and $13,000 in annual tax revenue, whereas the land now brings in a few hundred dollars.

Tom Reh, 68, of DeKalb said during the hearing that he knew there was a smaller solar farm less than a mile from his home, but he never saw it until he went looking for it one day. He said he understood where Lyons was coming from, but at least it was less invasive than a wind turbine being that close to her home.

Reh said these large-scale solar aggregation developments and other renewable energy sources would become more commonplace.

“Sometimes change is hard to deal with,” Reh said.

Klein said his recommendation would include the condition that Sunvest contact and attempt to address the concerns of neighbors.

Klein said he first saw large-scale solar panel arrays while he was on vacation on the East Coast, and that homeowners seemed to easily coexist with them.

“But I can understand how differently you would feel living there than I would driving by,” Klein said to Lyons.

The applications for the three solar farms come after a county public hearing officer recommended approval for the first solar farm application under a new ordinance passed April 1. That project, proposed by Borrego Solar, was approved by the Planning and Zoning Committee during its June 27 meeting and now goes to the County Board.

John Begun, 76, of Kirkland said he lives south of the proposed solar array in Franklin Township. He said he’s not inherently opposed to the idea of developing a large-scale solar energy project nearby. However, Begun said he was concerned about how the solar panels covering the soil would affect water drainage. He recommended that Sunvest Solar develop its project in a way that would allow for water to still be drained into a ditch on Pearl Street in Kirkland.

“I don’t want to have ponds on my land, either,” Begun said.

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