Solar Farms come to Kane County
Solar farms are sprouting up throughout Illinois as clean renewable energy programs are dictated by the government. If you’ve driven south on Illinois 39 between I-88 and I-80 you’ve seen many wind turbines dotting the landscape. Now solar farms are coming on strong. Illinois passed legislation called the “Future Energy Jobs Act”, which mandates that 25 percent of ComEd’s and Ameren’s (Illinois’ two major electric providers) power come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2025. As a result, Solar energy developers and contractors have descended on Illinois in large numbers to try and win approval from the Illinois Power Commission to develop and build solar farms. At the end of February, all companies that have had solar farm project proposals approved by respective local authorities can enter their projects in to a lottery drawing. 120 projects will be drawn and awarded, and the winning contractors will be able to build their projects.
Kane County revised their special use zoning permits to allow for solar farm installations on F-1 (Farm/Agriculture) zoned property. One such project was proposed by SunVest Solar Energy, for a 20 acre parcel of land in Plato Center. The project would cover the entire parcel with solar panels, which would create solar energy to be sold commercially to ComEd. Since this is an unincorporated parcel, Kane County has authority to determine the special use request. After reviewing the proposal, and the supporting documents, and hearing concerns from residents, the Plato Township Board decided to get involved. There were several concerns that we had regarding this project, ranging from concerns that it would exacerbate current ongoing flood and drainage issues, would be detrimental to property values of the adjacent existing residential properties, and it was not consistent with the type of locations of projects being approved elsewhere in the county and surrounding counties.
Township board members attended the Kane County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting and presented our concerns and stated our case for opposing the project. The township presented a position letter to the county board indicating our concerns. We even provided alternative, and much more appropriate sites for the county and contractor to consider. We also presented evidence of 39 other counties and villages that required minimum prescriptive setbacks of 200’ – 500’ buffers from existing residential properties. In the end, the zoning board agreed with the need for a buffer, adding a 300’ setback buffer on this project and added 15 additional stipulations. The request then went to the Development Committee which voted 7-0 with one abstained to not recommend the project to the county board. The Kane County Board ultimately voted 23-0 with one abstained to deny the project. Many board members commented on how impressed they were with the way the township and its residents presented their case. Well done Plato Center residents. A special thank you to Barbara Wojnicki, our county board representative for her counsel and support on this issue.
Plato Township Boards stance on solar farms is simple. We believe they are a great green renewable energy resource and we embrace their existence. But we also believe they are best suited for large rural tracts on the outskirts of towns, and with an acceptable buffer from existing residential properties. With thousands of acres of F-1 property throughout the county and this township, we can certainly have plenty of solar farms without potential negative impact to any existing residents.