Hearing officer recommends approval for two more solar energy projects

SYCAMORE – Sharon Moore of Sandwich said there have been four proposed solar farms in her neighborhood since DeKalb County passed a solar ordinance that went into effect April 1, and she's starting to get concerned.

Moore, 71, said she and her husband live on River Ridge Lane in Sandwich right by Somonauk Creek. Whenever there’s a rainstorm, the drainage system goes into the creek and usually results in flooding on that part of their property, she said.

Because of that, Moore said, she personally is against the proposed solar farm project from Cypress Creek Renewables that would be located near Somonauk Road in Sandwich. She said during a public hearing for the project Thursday that she’s concerned about how the proposed solar projects would affect the area’s drainage system and, thus, her residence.

“Are we going to have half of our property turn into a swamp?” Moore said. “That’s my worry.”

A DeKalb County hearing officer recommended approval for two 2-megawatt, about 30-acre Cypress Creek solar projects during public hearings Thursday, despite a few other public concerns about a county ordinance not limiting the number of projects going into one area. Each community solar project would connect to the Commonwealth Edison grid and could help power more than 300 homes a solar farm.

Hearing Officer Ron Klein said he would recommend approval for the Sandwich project and another similar solar energy project in Lee, based on what was presented at the public hearings Thursday. He said the projects still would be subject to approval from the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee and the County Board within the next couple of months.

Derek Hiland, community development director for DeKalb County, said Illinois law originally had restrictions on how many solar projects could go in one area, which was why that is not outlined in the county ordinance. After DeKalb County passed its solar ordinance, Illinois said colocation of 2-megawatt solar farms would be permitted, he said.

“That will be something that we will have to look at,” Hiland said.

Hiland has said there are more than 20 solar projects at various stages of the local approval process going through the county since board members passed the county solar ordinance, including four that were approved by the County Board on Wednesday. He has said he expects even more projects to come in the near future.

Scott Novack, senior developer for Cypress Creek Renewables, said the company plans to work with drain tile experts, will plan construction around them as much as possible, and repair and replace drain tile as needed. Even if several solar farm projects in one area receive county approval all the way through, he said, it's unlikely that most of them will receive state approval to become part of the Illinois Adjustable Block Program.

Novack said the bottom line is that it’s important to Cypress Creek that they work with the landowner they’re renting from and surrounding neighbors to address whatever concerns they may have.

“We try to receive as warm of a welcome as we possibly can,” Novack said.

Solar panel array proposals keep coming as the county's Planning and Zoning Committee continues to draft a wind energy ordinance. The county passed a moratorium last year on wind energy projects for 18 months or until a wind ordinance is passed.

Moore said she is all for considering alternative energy. But, she said, she thinks there should be a limit to how many projects can be in one neighborhood, especially if it might adversely affect nearby residents and wildlife.

“Progress is good,” Moore said. “But if it’s going to harm the animals and people there, that bothers me.”