SYCAMORE – While DeKalb County Board members on Wednesday indicated they support limiting how much space local solar energy projects can take up, they also approved a resolution increasing the acreage limits of allowable projects by 10,000 acres.
The County Board voted, 11-8, to approve increasing the limit of land from 8,000 acres to 18,000 acres and voted, 13-6, to approve the amended resolution supporting a limit to how much land can be used for solar energy projects. Board members Roy Plote and Patrick Deutsch abstained from both votes and board members Karen Cribben, Linda Slabon and Kiara Jones were absent from the meeting.
County Board member Craig Roman said his rationale for putting the increased acreage cap of 18,000 acres “was just simple math.” If the three industrial solar projects moving through the county’s permitting process accounted for 6,000 acres so far, “then in the period of time that this will be revisited,” which would be more than two years, “I just multiplied 6,000 by three.”
“If [the County Board was] looking for a moratorium on solar, I wanted to take an average of projects over the term to be fair to anyone who has done work but has not yet submitted an application,” Roman said after the meeting. “I felt the 8,000 and the 10,000 acres were too restrictive.”
Community members attending the Wednesday meeting, including Sandy Lyon of Kirkland, gasped when Roman moved to raise the acreage limit during the meeting. She said after the meeting she was concerned about the proposed industrial solar projects, which include 15-foot panels in a more than mile-long array, for the same reasons most, if not all, of affected Clare residents are concerned about the projects.
“They’re totally opposed to it because they see it as the demise of their village,” Lyon said. “Which, it pretty much will be, because that would totally enclose them.”
Lyon said she believes there should be a cap on how much total land in the county solar projects can take up.
“Because this is [agriculture] country – it always has been,” Lyon said. “It’s part of our history, DeKalb [agriculture] and the farm bureau was formed here. And there are people who’ve been on their farms for generations. ... So it’s been very controversial and it’s very hurtful, and there will be ties broken among people that will never be repaired.”
According to county documents, the original proposed temporary land use limit policy for solar energy projects up for County Board consideration was at a maximum of 8,000 acres across the county.
“The recommended limit does not apply to ancillary uses, such as panels installed on rooftops or on farms for the purpose of powering that particular property,” the documents state. “The recommended limit shall be reviewed at the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee meeting in January 2024.”
The update comes after the county started the public hearing process for applications related to three proposed industrial solar energy projects.
DeKalb County community members previously voiced concerns about future solar energy projects using up farmland too quickly, field drainage concerns and neighboring property values possibly plummeting if they’re adjacent to industrial solar farms, which could have 15-foot high panels. Project officials previously said the two industrial solar energy projects would not be invasive, would generate more property tax revenue than the current agriculturally-zoned land, and they would work to be good neighbors to non-participating property owners.
Should the county hearing officer recommend County Board approval for the three current pending industrial solar energy project applications, DeKalb County Board Chair Steve Faivre said the project proposals are set to go before the county planning and zoning committee by the end of September and the County Board in October.