The Kendall County Board approved a special-use zoning permit Tuesday, Aug. 21, for a solar farm to be built on property just east of the Village of Newark.
The board approved the permit for 6,912 solar panels to be installed on 23 acres of property owned by Nancy Harazin at 16400 Newark Road, just east of Route 71 along the south side of Newark Road.
Harazin is contracting with Borrego Solar Systems Inc. to install the panels, which will be a maximum height of 7 feet at full tilt, and the energy generated by the system will feed into Ameren's system and be consumed off-site, according to county records. The development is expected to generate 2 megawatts of energy, according to county meeting minutes.
Harazin is planning to sign a 20-year lease to Borrego, with the potential of four renewal periods of five years each, according to the county. The construction process is expected to take between four and six months, according to county officials, with plans for the system to be operational by July 31, 2019.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of the special-use permit, over the objections of some neighbors. However, they included some added conditions. Board member Judy Gilmour voted against the special-use permit, while board Chairman Scott Gryder and members Robert “H.D.” Davidson, Matthew Prochaska, Matt Kellogg, Audra Hendrix, and John Purcell voted in favor of it. Board members Lynn Cullick, Tony Giles, and Elizabeth Flowers were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
The board also voted unanimously in favor of adding an agricultural impact mitigation plan to the permit. The plan is “to ensure that the land affected by those projects is restored to its pre-construction capabilities,” according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Gilmour had initially requested that the issue be postponed until the board’s Sept. 4 meeting, but that request failed in a 4-3 vote. Gilmour, Gryder and Prochaska voted in favor of delaying the vote, while Purcell, Davidson, Hendrix and Kellogg voted no.
Gilmour voiced objections to the plan, particularly the landscape plan. She said there was not enough screening or buffering on the project’s boundaries.
Margaret Blum of GreenbergFarrow, an engineering firm on the project who is also a licensed landscape architect, said the screening and buffering would be appropriate for the use. She said the trees, for example, would be staggered and that in five years they should “fully screen that view.” She said planting trees too close together would cause the trees to die. Blum said the companies have worked with neighbors regarding the height of the trees that are buffering the area around the development. The planned height of the trees were previously 5 feet, Blum said.
“The planting height was increased to 7 feet, which means they will already be at the height of the maximum tilt of those panels – and recognize that the maximum tilt is only for a brief period of the day,” Blum said.
Prior to the vote, Purcell asked if there would be any changes to the property tax assessment on the property. Andy Nicoletti, the county's chief assessing official, said a new state law dictates that the panels will be assessed at $218,000 per megawatt of energy listed on the solar panel nameplate.
Tom Bromeland of Newark, who lives next door to the property, said he had concerns about the impact the property would have on nearby properties, calling it a potential eyesore. He said the project was being “rushed through.”
“There are too many unknown variables,” he said.
Patrick Kinnally, an attorney representing Bromeland, questioned whether a solar development is the “highest and best use” of the agricultural land on that property. Kinnally also said he’s “not sure what the urgency is here.”
“I think as a board you need to step back and say, whoa, let’s take a look at this,” he said.
Kinnally also questioned whether local first responders were prepared for issues related to the solar panels.
“What are the Newark police or the fire department gonna do when one of these things gets hit by lightning, because it’s gonna happen,” he said. “What are they gonna do? They don’t know. They don’t know anything about it. And that’s not a criticism of them. It’s something we as a group need to address.”
Resident Bonnie Johnson said she and other neighbors have concerns about the solar development. One of the concerns she had was the cost of “decommissioning” or removing the panels should the contractor default.
“Please do not approve this project at this time,” Johnson said.