Princeton City Council shuts down proposed IMEA solar array project

Project was to be located in the city’s Tech Park

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

A proposed solar array, that was slated to be located in lots 12, 13 and 15 of Princeton’s Tech Park, was shut down Monday night with a 2-2 vote with one voting member abstaining.

The project was proposed by the Illinois Municipal Electrical Agency was planned to occupy around 305,000 square feet, 7 acres, and be surrounded by a 7-foot, black-vinyl covered chain link fence and adequate landscaping to meet the area’s protected covenants.

The project was previously tabled during the council’s Jan. 17 meeting and was originally sent to the council after receiving a Planning Commision recommendation by a 3-2 vote.

During Monday’s meeting, the council once again heard comments from members of the community concerned with the array’s location.

“It would appear that since the solar array topic is on tonight’s agenda, the mayor feels he has the necessary votes to pass it,” Sam Fisher said. “I would imagine that there has been a lot of lobbying done in the past three weeks to get this conditional resolution passed.”

“Maybe some of the arguments could be that the money the city has already spent on the project would just go to waste if it is not approved or that Princeton would be viewed negatively and would not be able to move forward with IMEA and the developers for future projects.”

In response to Fisher’s claims, Mayor Joel Quiram later stated the city has not spent money towards the proposal by the IMEA from day one to now and if the project was to be approved, the city would still own the land the array would be placed on.

IMEA’s Chief Operating Officer, Gary Stephenson, also added the city of Princeton and IMEA will continue to work together as partners moving forward regardless of the decision made on the project.

“The thought that any decision you make tonight might result in some negative feedback from IMEA is categorically false,” Stephenson said. “This is completely your decision and we are 100% happy whichever way you go.”

Fisher went on to say he believed the city chose not to inform the public of new information regarding the project in the year or so since IMEA was given the go-ahead to develop a plan for a solar array in Princeton.

“We didn’t have information to share,” Quiram said. “When this was approved a year or so ago, when we said to go forward with it; the IMEA then started doing their planning. There was nothing for us to discuss. We were just waiting for the plans that they were going forward with the Tech Park location.”

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.

Quiram also addressed concerns previously made by Pat Schou, of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, regarding the proposed location of the array. Schou, who also serves as the chair of the Bureau County Board of Health, was not present during Monday’s meeting.

Quiram said he was in contact the CEO of the Western Region of OSF HealthCare, Roxanna Crosser, about the solar project scheduled to be located next to the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network building. OSF HealthCare operates four hospitals within ICAHN’s network.

According to Quiram, Crosser and OSF did not have an issue with the proposed location of the project.

Before the decision went to a council vote, Council Member Hector Gomez, who also serves as the administrator of the Bureau County Health Department, said because of his professional connection with Schou through the health department, he was asked to abstain from the vote by Quiram.

“I was told in an email that I was going to be exposed for this,” Gomez said. “This is common knowledge that we’ve been at the health department, especially the last two years with everything that’s been going on.”

Quiram said this information should have been disclosed during the council’s previous discussions as he was unaware Schou served as chair of the Bureau County Board of Health.

In a written email, read aloud by Quiram, he added asking Gomez to abstain from voting was not done to imply a conflict of interest, but rather get rid of the perception that one might exist.

After a lengthy discussion between members of the audience, council members and Quiram, the proposal was sent to a vote.

Council member Jerry Neumann and Quiram voted in favor of the proposal while council members Martin MaKransky and Michael McCall voted against the proposal, with Gomez abstaining from the vote.

The vote put an end to the proposed solar array in Princeton’s Tech Park. Proposals may once again be brought to the city’s planning commission and council for consideration in the future.

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