Another 5-megawatt solar farm proposed for just outside Sterling’s eastern edge

This time, City Council offering no objection

Sterling City Council

STERLING – The City Council agreed Monday not to object to a request for a special-use permit for a 5-megawatt solar farm just west of city limits, at Freeport and Science Ridge roads.

Unlike the farm being built by Nexamp Solar LLC at Locust Street/Route 40 and Science Ridge Road, to which the city submitted a letter of objection to Whiteside County in October, Charlottesville, Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy is not building in an area targeted for industrial development in the city’s comprehensive plan.

Apex presented its Freeport Road Solar proposal to the Sterling Plan Commission on March 20, which agreed to recommend the council not object. The final permitting decision rests with the County Board.

According to its permit application, Apex plans to build on 76 acres of agricultural land at 17505 Freeport Road, on the south side of Freeport, east of Science Ridge and within the city’s .5-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction, that it will lease from Keith Landis.

The land was used for farming organic legumes and grains, and for raising beef cattle. It is bordered on all sides by other land zoned A1, although a residential neighborhood lies directly northwest.

The 10,000 to 15,000 solar panels will be installed on about 36 acres, and “throughout its 40-year life, the project will produce the equivalent of approximately 1,000 homes’ worth of clean solar electricity per year; the end user of the electricity will be Commonwealth Edison customers both locally and across Illinois,” according to the permit application.

Construction on the roughly $7 million project is expected to begin in spring 2026, with the solar farm becoming operational the first half of 2027.

“The location is rural and the project has been designed to be unobtrusive, to blend seamlessly into the surrounding community, and to maintain the rural quality of the area,” according to the application.

Additionally, “most of the sound produced by the system is due to the inverter’s low-level hum and only occurs during the day when energy is being produced. This hum has been described as roughly equivalent to the sound of a dishwasher. At night, there will be no noise emanating from the solar facility audible at the property line,” Apex said.

A security fence will be installed and pollinator-friendly ground cover will be used.

Construction will create about 25 full-time-equivalent jobs, and the solar farm will bring about $700,000 in tax revenue during its first 25 years to the Whiteside County, Sterling Fire, Sauk Valley Community College, Sterling Park District, Sterling Township and Sterling Community Unit School District taxing districts, Apex estimated.

The county is expected to give its approval at its April 16 board meeting.

On March 8, nearby landowner Mary Snavely, 3502 Freeport Road, wrote a letter of support for the “green energy” project.

“We feel it’s a benefit to use what God provides,” Snavely wrote.

Over the objections of the city, the County Board last month approved issuing a special-use permit to build a 5-megawatt solar farm on 28 acres of a 42-acre parcel of prime farmland at 3260 Locust St., in the southeast corner of the intersection.

Locust Street Solar Farm will have about 11,100 “modules,” or solar panels and also will be enclosed by a fence. It will take about six months to build and will create 20 to 30 construction jobs, the company has said. Nexamp is leasing the land from Bill Hermes of TN Hermes LLC in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Although no specific business or industry is planned at present, the city considers that area to be prime for development, noting that in anticipation, it had installed sewer lines in the area and that Illinois American water lines also are nearby. In addition, the Illinois Department of Transportation built a roundabout at the intersection to accommodate an increase in traffic once the area is developed.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.