Solar array in Princeton’s Tech Park receives planning recommendation by 3-2 vote

Petition nows moves to Princeton City Council for consideration

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

The Princeton Planning Commission met Tuesday and voted to recommend, with conditions, Illinois Municipal Electrical Agency’s special use petition for a solar array to be located in Princeton’s Tech Park.

The petition was recommended under the condition that a landscape plan be submitted and approved by the city’s zoning officer and to provide paving on the property’s access road that was originally listed as aggregate.

Before the vote took place, commission member Jackie Davis reminded those in attendance that the board’s main purpose it to decide whether or not the plans follow the city’s zoning rules and regulations and not whether or not the project or location is good for the city of Princeton.

“We are here basically to look at what covenants are here and look at our zoning and to give a recommendation to the city,” Davis said. “That is what we do. I would say if you are having concerns, please voice those to the people who can do something about it, at a public meeting.”

Commission members Davis, Michael Wendt and Carol Bird voted in favor of recommendation, while Chairman Jim Scruggs and member Rodney Lange voted to not recommend the project.

If approved, the array would occupy lots 12, 13 and 15 of the tech park. The real estate is about 305,000 square feet, or 7 acres, and is 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.

A view of the solar panels at Reagan Middle School in Dixon. An energy consortium is proposing to install solar arrays at all the district schools in exchange for joining its power purchasing partnership.

Board members discussed with project representatives the need for adequate landscaping in order to maintain a more uniformed look of the site. Organizers stated that they would be open to providing certain landscaping items, but questioned what purpose and items would fulfill the requirement.

The solar array project is one targeted for IMEA communities of which Princeton is one of 32 members. According to Chief Operating Officer for IMEA, Gary Stephenson, six or seven of those communities have installed or were soon to install a solar project.

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.

According to Stephenson, this initiative is a result of evolving policies to diversify sources of electricity, particularly since fossil-fueled sources are mandated to decrease exponentially in the coming years.

By 2035, carbon emissions have been 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.

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.

“I think the idea of a solar array and Princeton being involved in it is a great idea, but I believe that location at the tech park is the wrong location,” Sam Fisher said. “People have made a substantial investment out there and they played by a certain set of rules and those rules are the set of covenants.”

Pat Shou of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network stated that she felt the city needed to look at this type of project with a long-term lens.

“What is the ultimate goal of the solar farm?” Shou said. “Is it to have more solar energy here and should the project be bigger than what it is, looking at the transfer station and other areas, because you are only accommodating a small part of that, what is the ROI as you look long term?”

The petition will now appear on the agenda for the next Princeton City Council meeting which will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16, at City Hall, 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.