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County board approves two solar farm projects

Solar farms may be the wave of the future in Ogle County.

Two of them got the nod from the county board Tuesday evening.

No discussion was held before the board voted to approve special use permits to allow solar projects near Mt. Morris and Davis Junction.

SunVest Solar, Inc., Geneva, is leasing the land for both farms.

One will be located on approximately 66 acres owned by Wilma Hongsermeier on Mt. Morris Road just north of the Mt. Morris wastewater treatment plant.

The board approved the special use for the property, which is zoned for industrial use, by an 18-3 vote.

The other project, on 118 acres zoned for agricultural use and owned by Rachel Davis, of Forreston, is located in the 6500 block of North Junction Road.

It passed by a vote of 14-7.

Three board members Garrett Williams, of Rochelle, Dorothy Bowers, of Byron, and Martin Typer, of Stillman Valley, did not attend the meeting.

Board member Zach Oltmanns, of Davis Junction, voted no to both solar farms.

He said he is concerned that the solar farms may interfere with underground tiles and impede drainage.

“I think it’s important to protect our ag land,” he said. “I’m concerned about drainage issues.”

Zoning Committee chairman Dan Janes, of Stillman Valley, voted no for the Davis Junction project, but yes for the one at Mt. Morris.

The location made the difference, he said.

“The one north of Davis Junction is in a drainage area, and it’s near a housing development,” he said. “The one at Mt. Morris affects only a couple of neighbors.”

He said the solar farm at Davis Junction is also near electrical high lines and the landfill.

The county board approved its first special use for a solar farm on March 20 when it granted a request from property owner Rod Wubbena and Elkhorn Solar LLC for a 360-acre project on Ill. 26 south of Forreston.

The board okayed the controversial request against the recommendations of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Regional Planning Commission.

However, the Planning & Zoning Committee had recommended approval.

This time all three of those groups recommended approval of both projects.

Janes said he expects to see an increase in solar projects and knows of three more that may brought before the board in the near future.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a dozen applications,” he said.

The upsurge, Janes said, is because solar companies are actively seeking sites for projects since the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner just over a year ago and went into effect June 1.

FEJA is 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.

Companies are hoping to take advantage of the first round of FEJA funding.

SunVest Inc. was part of a solar project rejected by the Mt. Morris Village Board in April.

The board voted against amending its zoning code to permit solar farms as a special use within the village limits.

Land owner David Luepkes made the request for 23 acres he owns and farms in an area zoned for industrial use.

The village board turned down the project because they preferred the land be used for a business that would generate jobs.

Soybeans are currently planted on the site.

In other business, the board approved two measures related to building the new county jail.

It vacated the 100 block of South Sixth Street where the jail will be located, and approved a bid for $166,724 from Martin & Company Excavating, of Oregon, to relocate sanitary sewer and water mains in that area.

The new jail will be connected to the judicial center by a sally port located across what is now the street.