Princeton council tables solar array resolution; citing location and expansion concerns

City hears concerns from business owners and members of the community

An aerial view of the lot numbers 12, 13, and 15 at the Princeton Industrial Park on Thursday, Jan 12, 2023 in Princeton.

After a lengthy public comment and council discussion, Princeton City Council voted 3-2 in favor of tabling the proposed resolution that would allow the construction of a solar array in the city’s Technology Park.

The resolution was sent to the council for consideration, with conditions, by a 3-2 vote from the Princeton Planning Commission.

The Illinois Municipal Electrical Agency filed a special use petition for the construction of a solar array that would occupy lots 12, 13 and 15 of the tech park. The project would occupy around 305,000 square feet, or 7 acres, commonly addressed as 1000 Ace Road.

The site would be surrounded by a 7-foot, black-vinyl covered chain link fence and the panels would track the sun from east to west.

While no official action on the topic was taken Monday night, the council heard various comments and concerns from surrounding business and landowners, as well as interested members of the community.

Concerns from speakers ranged from the location, room for future expansion, the protected covenants and impact of surrounding businesses.

During Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from neighboring properties and business owners spoke about their concerns with the project including its location and overall look of the tech park.

Many speakers said they were not in objection to a solar array in Princeton, but rather the tech park was the wrong location for this project.

Pat Schou of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, located adjacent to the proposed solar site at 1945 Van’s Way, said she believed the surrounding businesses and public were not properly informed of the proposed array and other locations should be considered.

Mayor Joel Quiram said the city addressed the possible project a year prior and also sent out letters to surrounding properties as they are required to do.

Schou also added she believed the array should have to follow similar protective covenants that ICAHN and others had to follow in the area.

“I have concerns about the solar park as I had to meet those covenants,” Schou said. “I was not given any conversation as far as the impact on our organization. I ask the council to review this information and give careful consideration to my appeal and our concerns.”

These covenants include paved roadways, a landscape minimum, no fences and many other items. Of the protected covenants, the project has requested a variance to allow the facility to have a fence as such projects are legally required to include.

IMEA and project representatives have said their willingness to deviate from the original plans to meet the landscaping minimum and to also pave the location’s access road.

Quiram also said the covenants includes a clause that allows the city to meet the need of unforeseen future changes and the variances of certain requirements for the location.

Chief Operating Officer for IMEA Gary Stephenson said on the concern of the project hurting surrounding business value, they have not seen that come to fruition with their other projects.

“This notion that it somehow degrades the value of adjacent land or somehow pushes away other development, hasn’t been brought out in the facts that we see,” Stephenson said. “We just haven’t seen it in terms of actual facts on the ground.”

The solar array project is one targeted for IMEA communities of which Princeton is one of 32 members. The electricity that would be generated from the solar development would be placed on the local distribution system and consumed by members of the community.

By 2035, carbon emissions have been state-mandated to reduce by 50% with a 100% reduction mandated by 2050, according to Stephenson. These mandates have led to IMEA planning for alternative generation sources in advance of the deadlines.

“This is a beginning, it’s a start,” Quiram said. “We have to start because if these mandates hold up and we are behind the eight ball we are going to be in trouble down the road.”

Quiram also added this project would be just one of many larger projects IMEA is exploring to help limit its dependence on carbon emissions.

Council Member Michael McCall said he believes the city should have done a better job at communicating the planned project to its residents.

“The communication was poor and I’m embarrassed to be part of a city council with communication like this,” McCall said.

Council Member Hector Gomez added he believed the tech park was the wrong location for the project.

After a lengthy council discussion, Council Member Jerry Neumann moved to table the resolution in order to give city officials a chance to review the information presented during Monday’s meeting and decide what they feel is in the best interest of Princeton.

Neumann, Council Member Martin Makransky and Quiram voted in favor of tabling the resolution, while McCall and Gomez voted against the tabling.

The resolution will appear on the agenda of the next scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday Feb. 6, at 2 S. Main St.

An aerial view of the lot numbers 12, 13, and 15 at the Princeton Industrial Park on Thursday, Jan 12, 2023 in Princeton.