By Vinde Wells
The Ogle County Board lifted its moratorium on solar farms last week just long enough to approve five applications and deny three more.
At a special meeting on Jan. 10 the board adopted new regulations for solar farms and then suspended the moratorium until the end of the meeting while it voted on the applications.
The six-month moratorium set last August will now remain in effect until the end of February, when it can be extended.
Dan Terhark, of rural Polo, was one of the property owners whose project was approved.
“We’re relieved the board made a decision,” he said. “There was a lot of public pressure.”
Meeting rooms have been packed for many of the recent board meetings and Zoning Board of Appeals hearings where solar farms were on the agenda.
Several people from the Stillman Valley area spoke out against having the projects so close to their rural subdivisions.
Terhark’s proposed solar farm is at 8248 N. Kishwaukee Rd., near Stillman Valley, on 52.68 acres he says has low fertility and only one near neighbor.
“This piece of land is very conducive to this. Not all of it is,” he said. “In fact, most of my land won’t be included.”
Besides Terhark’s, the board considered eight other special use applications for solar farms on property zone for agricultural use and followed the ZBA recommendations.
Others approved Wilma Hongsermeier’s 65.78 acres in the 3300 to 3500 block of North Mt. Morris Road; Gary Bocker’s 177.4 acres in the 8225 to 8500 block of West Haldane Road; Bradley J., Donna S., and Erik P. Bauer’s 115.29 acres at 1226 W. Oregon Trail Rd.; and 75.05 acres owned by Larry Roberts, Linda Powell, and Cindy Stauffer on the southwest corner of West Judson and South Union Roads.
The board denied applications from Ronald E. and Carolyn A. Pifkin on 55.3 acres in the 7000 block of East Hales Corner Rd.; Wesley and Kathryn Burandt on 74.02 acres in the 11,000 block of East Big Mound Road; and Curtis R. and Norma L. Freeburg on 153.76 acres in the 6400 block of East Hales Corner Road.
The board also approved a request from Ronald Stocking to withdraw his special use application on 146.78 acres in the 7000 block of East Hales Corner Road.
After voting, board chairman Kim Gouker, of Byron, said he doesn’t agree with the current practice of allowing solar farms as a special use on agricultural land.
Instead, he said, the land should be rezoned.
“This is on agricultural property,” he said. “I don’t think a special use is designed to put an industrial project on top of the ground. This needs to be industrial zoning because this is an industrial use.”
After approving three solar farms last summer, the board set the moratorium and appointed an ad hoc committee to develop regulations.
The solar farm applications voted on Jan. 10 were filed prior to or during the moratorium.
The new regulations adopted will apply to the just approved applicants as well as any in the future.
Eight amendments, most of them introduced by board member Benjamin Youman, of Davis Junction, were added to the ad hoc committee’s regulations, making the rules more stringent.
The amendments dictate any solar farm developer/operator must contribute $100,000 per megawatt to a decommissioning fund to help cover costs when the solar farm is dismantled.
This is in addition to providing a performance bond of 125 percent of estimated decommissioning costs.
Another $100,000 per megawatt will be charged for a disposal fund.
The money will be returned if the developer/operator lives up to the regulations.
Another amendment prohibits siting solar farms within a mile and a half of a municipality if the board or council does not want it there.
Previously, municipal governments could weigh in but their preference was not binding.
Other amendments addressed visual screens, environmental concerns, and enforcement and accountability of the landowners.
Even with the special use permits approved, actually getting a solar farm is not guaranteed.
Several solar companies have been actively seeking sites for projects since the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act was approved almost two years ago, aimed at increasing renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, as well as increasing energy efficiency, providing job training in the energy field, and cutting costs to consumers.
Which solar projects are successful through IFEJA will be determined by a state lottery with a Jan. 15 deadline.
To be eligible for the lottery, projects must have local government authorization and a connection to the electric power grid.
Ogle County Zoning Administrator Mike Reibel said approximately 30 percent of the submitted projects are expected to be chosen in the blind drawing.