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County declares moratorium on solar farms

Several signs against a proposed solar farm north of Stillman Valley dot the grassy areas along Hales Corner Road and Meridian Road. Photo by Earleen Hinton
Several signs against a proposed solar farm north of Stillman Valley dot the grassy areas along Hales Corner Road and Meridian Road. Photo by Earleen Hinton

A Stillman Valley man was appreciative Tuesday evening after the Ogle County Board declared a six-month moratorium on solar farms.

Mike Lalor, 7540 N. Kylewood Drive, Stillman Valley, spoke for most of the estimated 100 people who had crowded into the county board room to hear the board’s decision on three solar farms.

“In behalf of an awful lot of people here tonight, I want to thank you for approving the moratorium,” he said. “Thank you for what you did.”

Lalor and many of his neighbors testified before the Zoning Board of Appeals, saying they did not want the solar farms so near their homes.

Many of the people in the crowd wore round stickers on their shirts that read “no solar plant” in capital letters.

County board chairman Kim Gouker, of Byron, said the moratorium was needed to get regulations in place before more solar farms are considered.

“I think we made a mistake not to create a solar farm ordinance before we started to deal with them,” he said.

The board has already approved three solar farms near Forreston, Mt. Morris, and Davis Junction, which will not be affected by the moratorium.

Due to the board’s action, three requests went on the back burner for special use permits to allow solar farms on property zoned for agricultural use in the Stillman Valley area: one on 55.3 acres owned by Ronald and Carolyn Pifkin in the 7000 block of Hales Corner Road, the second on 52.68 acres owned by Dan Terhark at 8248 N. Kishwaukee Rd., and the third on 146.78 acres owned by the Stocking Family Trust in the 7000 block of Hales Corner Road.

FFP IL Community Solar LLC, San Francisco, California, is leasing the Pifkin and Terhark properties, while SunEast Development LLC, West Chester, Pennsylvania, is leasing the Stocking land.

Planning & Zoning Committee Chairman Dan Janes, of Stillman Valley, recommended the moratorium because, he said, the county has no zoning ordinances to govern solar farms and needs time to draw them up.

“I have no problem with anyone in agriculture doing whatever they want,” he said. “But once you sign that lease it becomes the county’s issue, and we don’t have the regulations in place to deal with large industrial electrical production like this.”

The moratorium, which can be extended for an additional six months, was eventually approved by a vote of 21-1, but not before two motions were introduced to slow it down.

Board member Lyle Hopkins, of Polo, who cast the no vote, made a motion to table the moratorium for a month to allow the board to vote on the three requests.

“I don’t object to the moratorium but it should be after the vote on the solar farms on the agenda,” he said. “These people have gone through the process and they’ve paid the money. They’ve worked hard to get this far.”

Gouker said he purposely listed the moratorium on the agenda before the votes on the special use requests.

“If the moratorium passes, we won’t consider the solar farms tonight,” he said.

Board member Lee Meyers, of Byron, backed him up.

“Mr. Chairman, I don’t normally agree with you, but I think you’re right,” Meyers said, drawing a laugh from the board. “We should correct our mistake first.” 

Hopkins’ motion failed a vote of 16-6.

Board member Bruce McKinney then made a motion to rearrange the agenda to delay the moratorium vote until after the votes on the special uses requests.

That motion also failed by a vote of 17-5.

Gouker said the Planning & Zoning Committee will study regulations already enacted in other places and consider if solar farms should fall under special uses or be an amendment to the counties’ zoning code.

The Regional Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals will consider the Planning & Zoning Committee’s proposal, and all three will make recommendations to the county board, which will have the final vote.