Dawn of a powerful new era? Whiteside signs preliminary agreement with solar farm developer

County joins others in the Sauk Valley exploring renewable energy

1 of 3

MORRISON – Whiteside County is negotiating with a Minnesota-based energy company that wants to build a solar energy farm on 125 acres off U.S. Route 30 in rural Morrison.

On behalf of the board, Chairman Jim Duffy signed a nonbinding letter of intent with IPS Solar, which wants to build on about 105 acres of closed landfill property at 18762 Lincoln Road and on 20 more across Route 30, behind the county Highway Department.

The project still is in the planning stages, but in general, the Roseville, Minnesota-based company would lease the land for $1,000 an acre a year for 25 years.

That would put more than $3 million in the county’s pockets over the course of the lease, plus whatever property taxes the new venture would garner.

The IPS solar farm would produce 10 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to fuel about 7,500 homes.

It’s a project that would put Whiteside County on the forward edge of the renewable energy movement – which sustainable-minded companies looking for an area in which to locate might find desirable, said Gary Camarano, its economic development director.

Innovative Power Systems (ips-solar.com) is one of more than six alternative energy companies – including Cypress Creek Renewables, Dedicated Community Solar Energy, and Silver Farms – to come nosing around the county recently.

“We saw this coming,” Camarano said, noting that the board passed a solar farm ordinance in April.

“Renewables are here, and they’re going to continue to evolve.”

Thanks to the December 2016 passage of state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, which requires increased energy production from renewable sources and provides tax and other incentives to get there, companies are rushing to line up projects and pursue competitive solar renewable energy credits coming this summer from the Illinois Power Agency, which administers the act.

In fact, IPS needed the nonbinding letter of intent to show it has rights to the landfill property, so it could pursue those RECs.

An actual agreement with IPS still would need to be approved by the full board.

That process, which involves committee discussions, assessing the site, getting permits, etc., could take 3 to 6 months, but once board approval is in hand, the farm could be up and running within a year, Camarano said.

Projects elsewhere in the Sauk Valley

In the meantime, as in the rest of the state, solar farms are in various stages of development across the Sauk Valley.

In December, the Bureau County Board approved conditional-use permits for a $31 million Hoover Solar LLC farm, which will be built on 313 acres in the northwestern part of the county, near New Bedford.

It will produce about 17 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to power more than 7,500 homes, and generate about $120,000 in taxes a year, according to the developer, Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, California.

Cypress Creek also wants to build a 20-megawatt solar energy farm on 200 acres of land south of Town Line Road, near Forreston in Ogle County.

It is awaiting licensing approval from the County Board, although it has met with resistance from neighbors in the village of Forreston who are concerned about taking farmland out of production, noise and the possible effects on property values.

Dixon city officials also are considering a proposal to build a solar farm at the municipal airport. San Diego-based Cenergy Power wants to build two 10-acre solar farms and enter into a 21-year lease; it would pay the city $2,000 an acre each year.

Building the farm, however, would require the city to draft a new airport layout plan with the Federal Aviation Administration, declaring the acreage excess land. That process would cost about $300,000, say city officials, who are studying its feasibility.

The Whiteside County Airport Board also was approached about building a 20-acre solar farm at the Rock Falls facility, but members rejected the idea, and there also has been talk of erecting panels on 40 acres at the former Stanley building just outside of Rock Falls.

The Lee County Board, which approved its solar farm ordinance in December, is being pursued by a company that wants to build a solar farm across 200 acres, and Sauk Valley Community College trustees are considering building solar panels on top of the college off state Route 2 in Dixon.

“The potential for our region in renewable energy is enormous, and it’s something we have to tap into,” Camarano has said.