Lee County approves extension for Junction Solar project

DIXON - The first large solar farm development in Lee County is going to take longer to build than initially anticipated.

In May 2019, the Lee County Board signed off on a special use permit for Junction Solar LLC to build a 100-megawatt solar farm between Herman and Reynolds roads in Steward on about 760 acres of farmland.

The project was significantly delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the company recently petitioned the county for a 2-year extension on the solar farm to be completed by May 2024.

The County Board voted, 16-3, to approve the extension. Board member Rick Humphrey was one of the dissenting votes citing concerns that the company is choosing not to follow updated solar regulations such as increased setback requirements.

Junction Solar’s parent company is Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy – now owned by British gas and electricity giant National Grid Renewables. Geronimo owns the Green River Wind Farm that spans more than 13,000 acres in Lee and Whiteside counties.

Dixon attorney Courtney Kennedy, who represents Junction Solar, said the project is substantially underway and that changing the plans “would completely uproot the project.”

Lee County State’s Attorney Charley Boonstra said the company is not legally required to meet the new changes with the county’s solar ordinance, as it was approved under the original ordinance.

Junction Solar is a $121 million project estimated to generate around $588,000 in county property taxes for the first year and total about $8.8 million across 20 years.

Last year, Geronimo also received county approval for the Eldena Solar LLC project, a 175-megawatt solar farm in South Dixon and Nachusa townships across 1,200 acres near Eldena.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

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