Number of solar farm projects nearing 30 in DeKalb County

September 27, 2018

DeKALB – Cassie and Steve Gavin started to come to recent DeKalb County Board and Planning and Zoning Committee meetings because they were becoming concerned about the sudden influx of proposed solar energy projects on land along Somonauk Road near their house in Sandwich.

Cassie Gavin, 52, and Steve Gavin, 53, said their main concern was how the aesthetic of the 7-foot chain-link fences that would surround each 2-megawatt community solar energy project would affect property values overall in their Hidden Oaks subdivision.

Cassie Gavin said there’s a reason why subdivisions have covenants when it comes to even the type of fence that each homeowner can have on their property. She said most of those covenants don’t allow chain-link fences because it gives the neighborhood an overall colder appearance.

“I think that, when you see that, people come out this way out to Sandwich to get away from the city living, and that’s more of a city thing,” Cassie Gavin said.

Including the projects that would be near the Gavins’ home, the Planning and Zoning Committee approved a total of 13 solar energy projects during its Wednesday meeting at the DeKalb County Health Facility Multipurpose Room, 2574 N. Annie Glidden Road. The projects approved Wednesday now will go to the County Board for approval.

Representatives from the solar project developers, including Cypress Creek Renewables Development LLC, Summit Ridge Energy and Soltage LLC, also attended the meeting to provide information about the projects and the development process. They said they are doing everything they can to reach out to individual neighbors and best address whatever concerns they may have. They also reiterated that every project still is subject to state approval before it officially can enter the state solar program lottery, which is scheduled for the beginning of next year.

Derek Hiland, community development director for the county, said he has heard from several developers since the county passed a solar energy ordinance effective April 1 that developers need three things before DeKalb County projects even can be considered for the state’s solar program: approved land use from a willing owner, county zoning clearances and an approved interconnection agreement with ComEd.

Hiland said the county isn’t keeping an active log on the number of solar energy projects coming to the county. Off the top of his head, he said, there are about 30 projects that are in various stages of the zoning approval process with the county currently, whether it’s getting an approval recommendation from a county hearing officer, Planning and Zoning Committee approval of a plan or the proposed project receiving County Board approval.

After attending a recent Illinois Association of County Zoning Officials meeting, Hiland said, he learned that DeKalb County is one of the counties in the state with the largest number of proposed solar projects in the pipeline.

“And I don’t know why that is,” Hiland said.

Hiland said there is no cap zoning-wise on how many solar projects could be in the county. He said there is no limit written in the county ordinance because state law didn’t allow colocation of two projects next to each other when the ordinance went into effect April 1. On April 3, he said, the state law changed to allow colocation of two sites.

Hiland said he is unsure about how many projects would be too many in terms of power grid capacity. He said he’s unsure whether the power grid size could be adjusted to the number of solar energy projects feeding into the system.

Cassie Gavin said she and her husband were put somewhat at ease after talking about potential workable appearance options for the projects with a couple of solar farm representatives during the Wednesday meeting. However, they said, they still are wary about the potential slippery slope of so many projects trying to make their way into DeKalb County.

“I think visually it’s not a good thing,” Cassie Gavin said. “I hope that the solar companies have integrity where, when they say that they are going to camouflage the fences, that they will do what they say.”

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