Lee County Zoning Board gives solar project a thumbs up

3,800-acre utility-grade solar farm is proposed south of Dixon industrial park

DIXON - The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals gave a favorable recommendation for a $450 million solar development that would be built south of the industrial park.

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 across 3,838 acres south of town, 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.

For nearly 2 months, there have been several meetings in a quasi-judicial hearing process where testimony, evidence and public comment was presented to the Zoning Board, including nine witnesses providing testimony as well as more than a dozen people making public comments.

The board then made 101 fact findings and recommendations based on the hearing and voted unanimously in favor of the project Monday.

The recommendation will go to the Lee County Board next month for a final vote.

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

The board found 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 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.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

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