Dixon City Council takes stance on 3,800-acre solar farm

DIXON – The City Council has decided to shine a light of support for a 3,800-acre solar farm proposed south of its limits.

South Dixon Solar LLC of Duke Energy Renewables is repetitioning the county for a special-use permit to build a 500-megawatt utility-grade project south of the industrial park on state Route 26 in South Dixon Township.

The first time around, City Council members didn’t speak publicly about the project and decided the city would remain neutral.

The Lee County Board has authority on whether to approve the project, but municipalities within 1.5 miles of proposed developments are given the opportunity to support or object to a project close to their boundaries.

Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said the council originally had a few concerns with the project – it would tie up development south of Interstate 88 for at least 35 to 70 years, and there were questions about how it would affect the Fargo Creek tributary.

Negotiations didn’t go as well as the city hoped, so Arellano said it decided to leave it to county processes rather than take a stance.

Arellano said those initial concerns have since been addressed, and the city is ready to publicly support the project.

South Dixon Solar will need to repeat the county zoning process: presenting evidence and testimony before going to the County Board for a vote.

During the first process, the Lee County Zoning Board gave a favorable recommendation for the project after holding seven meetings in the hearing process. The County Board voted, 18-4, to turn down the first proposal.

Board members voiced concerns that not all surrounding residents were properly notified via mail of the project, as required, and some board members said they received many calls from constituents against the project. Neighbors worried about setbacks, aesthetics and other concerns spoke out against the solar farm during the zoning hearing process.

Company officials had said that solar panels would allow the farmland to rest and likely improve after 35 years. Prairie grass would be planted in the project footprint, and trees would have been planted along the fence line as a visual buffer for neighbors. It would generate enough energy to power 100,000 homes a year and construction would have begun in early 2022.

The company lined up lease agreements for 3,838 acres of farmland across 50 parcels involving 25 participating landowners. The project was estimated to bring in about $43 million in property tax revenue across the 35-year life of the project, with the majority going to the Dixon and Amboy school districts.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

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