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County board tables action on solar farms

By Vinde Wells

The Ogle County Board tabled a resolution Tuesday to repeal a moratorium on solar farms.

Board chairman Kim Gouker, of Byron, recommended that the moratorium approved last August remain in place until the board has adequate time to review a new set of recommendations governing solar farms.

“The moratorium needs to stay in place until the recommendations are accepted,” he said.

Before tabling the repeal, the board tabled the newly drawn up recommendations.

Gouker told the board and the audience of around 50 people that the Planning & Zoning Committee held a special three-hour meeting that afternoon to make its recommendation on the rules for solar farms drawn up by an adhoc committee formed in September for that purpose. 

The Planning & Zoning Committee recommended the new regulations to the county’s Zoning Code to the county board, which has the final say.

Gouker said Zoning Administrator Mike Reibel was making the final changes to the recommendations and would bring copies to the meeting as soon as possible.

However, he said that would not give board members adequate time to review them and make its decision Tuesday evening.

Several applications in recent months for special use permits for solar farms have drawn opposition from neighbors, especially near Stillman Valley.

Although the board had already approved three solar farms, it declared the moratorium on Aug. 21 to allow time to draw up regulations to govern them for the zoning code.

The new regulations did not meet with approval from some people attending Tuesday’s board meeting.

Rockford attorney Michael Shalbrack, who represents homeowners near two of proposed Stillman Valley solar farms, said he has attended the adhoc committee meetings where the new rules were discussed. 

The recommended rules, he said, have inconsistencies and are potentially “legal land mines” for both opponents and proponents of solar farms.

“Don’t rely solely on the adhoc committee. Do your own homework,” Shalbrack said.

Stillman Valley resident Heather Lalor criticized the recommendations for having no protection in place for municipalities near solar farms, no property value protection for nearby residents, no required water testing, and no protection from possible carcinogenic chemicals that might come from the solar panels.

Even adhoc committee member Lee Meyers, of Byron, had misgivings.

“The recommendations are a good start, but we’re not there yet,” said Meyers, who is also a county board member.

Besides Meyers, members of the nine-member adhoc committee are county board members Dan Janes, of Stillman Valley, John Finfrock, of Mt. Morris, Marcia Heuer, of Oregon, and Rick Fritz, of Monroe Center, and citizens Stan Asp, of Mt. Morris, Keith Poole, of Polo, Scott Christensen and Ron Steenken, both of Stillman Valley.

The county board approved allowing solar farm applications to continue to be heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Commission while the moratorium is in place.

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