Duke Energy selling renewable energy branch for $4 billion

Company includes 3,800-acre South Dixon Solar project

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.

DIXON – Duke Energy, which is developing a 3,838-acre solar farm just south of Dixon, is planning to sell its renewable energy operations.

At a price tag of $4 billion, the energy giant is looking for a buyer for its portfolio of 3.4 gigawatts of wind projects and about 1.7 gigawatts of solar projects. The sale was announced in August and confirmed in November in the company’s third-quarter earnings release.

The sale will likely take place this quarter and be closed by mid-year, according to the release. Profits from the sale will go toward paying off debt and avoiding taking on new debt with high interest rates.

South Dixon Solar LLC, of Duke Energy, petitioned Lee County in 2020 for a special-use permit to build a utility-grade solar farm, but the Lee County Board ultimately voted 18-to-4 against the proposal after residents raised concerns that not all surrounding neighbors were properly notified via mail of the project as required.

The company re-petitioned the county in 2021, and the County Board approved the project in a 13-to-7 vote in December 2021. The development area is south of the industrial park on state Route 26.

The Zoning Board unanimously voted to give the project a favorable recommendation following about 2 months of a quasi-judicial hearing process where testimony, evidence and public comment was presented to the Zoning Board with nine witnesses providing testimony as well as more than a dozen people making public comments.

The board found that the project would comply with local, state and federal standards, and it would be an acceptable use on agricultural land with no apparent environmental concerns. Most of the land, 89.3%, is used for row crops, and solar panels would take up around a third of the 3,838-acre project footprint.

The $450 million project would generate enough energy to power 100,000 homes, and it could bring in about $59 million in property taxes across the 40-year lifespan of the project, said Jeff Neves, business development director at Duke, during the hearing process.

This map illustrates the footprint of the proposed 4,000-acre solar farm south of Dixon.

The company lined up lease agreements for 3,838 acres of farmland across 51 parcels involving 25 participating landowners.

Prairie grasses would be planted in the project footprint to attract pollinators and improve drainage, and trees would be planted along the fence line as a visual buffer for neighbors.

In 2020, the city of Dixon didn’t take a stance on the project, but the Dixon City Council voted on a resolution in support of South Dixon Solar in 2021 after negotiating with the company. The city will receive a one-time donation of $525,000.

The council had some preliminary concerns including the project cutting off further city development south and the possible impact to the local water shed and Fargo Creek.

Neighboring residents spoke against the project with concerns about potential effect on property values, water runoff, and using prime farmland for energy production rather than food production.

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Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.