South Dixon Solar presents project details for 3,800-acre solar farm

DIXON – Duke Energy officials returned to Lee County looking to develop a 3,800-acre solar farm south of the industrial park on state Route 26.

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

The company recently has brought the petition once more before the county and began the zoning hearing process for officials and residents to present evidence and testimony about the project.

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

The company repetitioned under the county’s original solar ordinance, which has since been changed to address setback concerns from community members as well as visual buffers and fencing.

Courtney Kennedy, a Dixon attorney representing South Dixon Solar, said even though they wouldn’t be obligated to meet the new ordinance changes, they are exceeding requirements and plan to meet nearly all of the changes set by the latest ordinance.

More community outreach was done this time around, she said, and the city of Dixon is in support of the project.

“We want to be a good member of the community,” Neves said. “We plan to be a longterm business in the community and a longterm operator of the project.”

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

Neves said the project would not be built on any wetlands or in any flood plain. Prairie grasses would be planted in the project footprint, and trees would be planted along the fence line as a visual buffer for neighbors.

Project engineer Patrick Smith said they will take measures to preserve the character of the neighborhood, they will disturb as little top soil as possible, and they expect a reduction in run-off flooding compared to row crops.

The hearing process will continue Tuesday and is expected to run for several meetings before the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals make a recommendation for the County Board. Community members are given the opportunity to question those testifying and will later be able to present testimony and/or public comment.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

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