Lee County nixes solar moratorium, creates special committee

DIXON – The Lee County Board decided not to implement a moratorium on solar projects and is forming a special committee to take a closer look at its ordinance.

Talk of moving forward with a moratorium came about recently, after the board approved a few utility grade solar developments, and there were concerns that the county's solar ordinance didn't address issues residents voiced with larger projects.

On Nov. 19, the board approved a special-use permit for Steward Creek Solar LLC, of Virginia-based Hexagon Energy, to build a 600-megawatt solar farm across 5,000 acres in Alto and Willow Creek townships near Steward and Lee, bordering Ogle and DeKalb counties as well as Interstate 39 and Highway 30.

That decision came after the board approved a 1,300-acre solar farm in September by Eldena Solar LLC, developed by Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy LLC, allowing for a 175-megawatt solar farm in South Dixon and Nachusa townships, near the corner of Eldena and Nachusa roads.

In May 2019, Geronimo also was granted a special-use permit under Junction Solar LLC to build a 100-megawatt solar farm across 760 acres near Steward between Herman and Reynolds roads in Alto and Reynolds townships.

The next large development to go before the board in the coming weeks will be for a 4,000-acre solar farm by Duke Energy Renewable Solar outside Dixon south of the industrial park on state Route 26 in South Dixon Township.

Board member Mike Koppien suggested a solar moratorium at the Nov. 19 meeting until revisions were made to the solar ordinance. Board members then voted to suspend the rules to vote on proposed ordinance changes rather than holding the draft over until December.

Changes included changing property setbacks of 50 feet to 300 feet, and increasing the setback from dwellings from 300 feet to 600 feet. Solar panel heights also were decreased from up to 30 feet to 20 feet. Language was added to require visual screens, such as shrubs and landscaping, to improve aesthetics, and more detail was included for water runoff and drainage management.

The moratorium was discussed at a special meeting Monday, and Koppien said it wasn't necessary after they bolstered the solar ordinance but moved to create an ad hoc committee to see if other changes are needed.

The board agreed to create the committee, which will likely be made up of board members Koppien, Dave Bowers, Chris Norberg and Jim Schielein as well as county Zoning Administrator Dee Duffy and a member of the Zoning Board.

Norberg said they should have a timeline set to keep the group on track, and Schielein said the committee will also give them a chance to address any other concerns that come up.