SYCAMORE – After weeks of prolonged public hearings, a DeKalb County government official is recommending the county board’s approval for three industrial solar energy projects, with a few added caveats.
The projects have been the subject of debate locally over the past few months. Some called for the DeKalb County Board to oppose the projects for fear of neighboring home values deteriorating amid large solar panels. Proponents argued the benefits of solar energy and property tax revenue to the area made for a compelling case.
With the blessing of the public hearing officer after residents turned out for several hearings to debate the plans over the summer, the proposals have at least two more votes before final approval. The projects next will head before the County Board’s planning and zoning committee before going before the board for a final vote.
There is also a public hearing for the County Board to consider an acreage cap for solar projects at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Legislative Center’s Gathertorium, 200 N. Main St., Sycamore.
According to DeKalb County government documents, the proposals have attained the recommendation of the public hearing officer, Dale Clark.
Clark wrote the solar energy projects “will not be unreasonably detrimental to the value of other property in the neighborhood in which it is to be located or the public welfare at large.”
“The hearing officer received no information indicating a loss of value for adjacent farmland, either in gross or per acre, or any potential for lost or lowered cash-rent values,” Clark wrote.
According to documents, approval for the three projects requires that developers have financial agreements and decommissioning plans with the County Board before construction begins, including “vegetative screening, fencing, and ground cover” that should align with the submitted plans.
Clark also is recommending that, because of the size of and density, the edge of the solar panels need to be at least 500 feet away from “occupied, already-existing” residential buildings, “unless the residential property owner waves this distance.”
The Owens Creek project from Leeward Renewable Energy has submitted an application for a 500-megawatt solar farm that would occupy about 3,700 acres west of Glidden Road, south of Base Line Road and north of Illinois Route 64 in Mayfield and South Grove townships. Another Leeward Renewable Energy proposed project called Red Maple would take up 1,800 acres south of Gurler Road and north of Perry Road in Afton and Pierce townships.
Samsung also submitted a special-use application June 18 for a proposed 643-acre project in Milan Township. The proposed site location is within an area generally bounded between McGirr Road to the north, Haumesser Road to the east, Hermann Road to the south and Wilrett Road to the west, according to the documents.
All together, the three projects would take up 6,000 acres if proper permits were approved by the county. The update comes after the DeKalb County Board voted in mid-August to approve increasing the limit of land from 8,000 acres to 18,000 acres and to approve the amended resolution supporting a limit to how much land can be used for solar energy projects.
Public hearings for the projects occurred Aug. 10, Aug. 19, Aug. 26 and Sept. 13.
Clark wrote the Leeward Energy projects “must commence within 36 months of approval by the county.” He wrote the Samsung project must commence no later than June 30, 2023.
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 the projects. Project officials previously said the 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.
The projects are set to go before the county board this month.
DeKalb County Board member Steve Faivre, who chairs the county’s planning and zoning committee, said Sept. 27 that the hearing officer’s recommendations have to go before the committee before going to the full County Board for a final vote.
Faivre said he was “not sure yet” when the committee vote will be scheduled, whether that will be a special meeting called early this month or during the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting later this month.
“I’m working on that with staff,” Faivre said.