Zoning Board talks potential impact of proposed 3,800-acre South Dixon Solar project

DIXON – The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals recently finished the bulk of its fact findings on how a proposed 3,800-acre solar farm would affect the area.

South Dixon Solar LLC, of Duke Energy, is re-petitioning the county for a special-use permit to build a utility-grade solar farm south of the industrial park, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2020 when the Lee County Board ultimately voted down the proposal after concerns that not all surrounding neighbors were properly notified by mail of the project as required.

The quasi-judicial hearing process has held several meetings where testimony, evidence and public comment is presented to the Zoning Board, including nine witnesses providing testimony as well as more than a dozen people making public comments. So far, the board has compiled 72 findings based on the hearings – and likely about 40 more when the board next meets on Wednesday.

Included in those was the finding that “inconclusive evidence was presented that the proposed solar energy system development would not have a negative impact on property values within the area of the proposed project.”

Community members previously expressed skepticism of testimony from real estate consultant Michael MaRous, who said his market analysis on property sales near solar projects didn’t show any data indicating that solar developments would have a negative effect on property values. Zoning Board member Glen Hughes said the study included some interesting comparisons but most were much smaller projects than the one proposed by South Dixon Solar.

“While I believe there was some good information regarding the impact of other solar systems relative to the properties around them ... most of the information was in smaller units in segregated areas,” Hughes said. “I think with this size of a unit, I’m not quite sure there’s sufficient information to conclusively make the determination.”

The board also reported that the project would comply with local, state and federal standards – it’s an acceptable use on agricultural land and it would have no apparent environmental concerns. The project footprint spans 3,838 acres south of city limits and includes leases from 25 landowners. Most of the land, 89.3%, is used for row crops.

Setbacks include 50 feet from the front of any property line, 15 feet from side of rear lines, 500 feet from any platted subdivision and 400 feet from the foundation of any non-participating dwelling. Native grasses and pollinators would be planted with the goal of reducing soil erosion and allowing the land to rest before being returned to farmland after 40 years.

The project would be surrounded by an 8-foot-tall woven wire fence, and lighting would be shielded and downcast.

Construction would take place sometime between 2022 and 2024, taking about 18 months to 2 years for completion. An estimated 450 temporary construction jobs would be created and five to 10 full-time jobs are estimated to open for operations and maintenance.

If constructed, the project is estimated to generate about $50 million across 40 years in property taxes. The $450 million project would generate enough energy to power about 100,000 homes.

The board also approved a finding that the board’s decision is not based on revenue a project could create but rather on criteria of the Lee County solar ordinance.

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Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

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