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Large solar farm in the works near Minonk

  Minonk Solar project manager Eduardo Amaya (left, masked) talks with a group of Woodford County residents about his company's planned solar farm.
Tim Alexander
/
WCBU
Minonk Solar project manager Eduardo Amaya (left, masked) talks with a group of Woodford County residents about his company's planned solar farm.

Dozens of local residents attended an open house this week in Minonk, hosted by by Liberty Power (formerly Algonquin Power Co.), that is seeking permits to construct a large solar farm just east of the Woodford County town of 2,000.

The solar farm would be built partially upon the footprint of Liberty’s existing wind farm, abutting the northeast limit of the Woodford and LaSalle county line. The project, slated for completion in 2026, would include photovoltaic panels, a network of access roads requiring easements on private property, inverters, electrical collection lines, a substation and switching station, and a battery energy storage system located on private land.

That's according to Eduardo Amaya, Liberty’s Minonk Power, LLC project manager, who hosted Tuesday's open house at Fieldcrest High School, and patiently answering residents’ questions about the planned project.

“We are in the early planning phases and the construction timeline and details are still to be determined. We estimate, based on our experience in other similar projects, that around 300 jobs or more are created at the peak of construction,” said Amaya. “There will also be many jobs available to maintain and operate the solar farm when it is in service. We always look to hire and train local workers in our projects.”

  Minonk Solar project manager Eduardo Amaya (left, masked) talks with a group of Woodford County residents about his company's planned solar farm.
Tim Alexander
/
WCBU
Minonk Solar project manager Eduardo Amaya (left, masked) talks with a group of Woodford County residents about his company's planned solar farm.

Liberty chose the site because of the existence of the wind farm that the company purchased from its original owner, and the willingness of some landowners to double down on their commitment by entering into a solar lease agreement with the company.

“Some of the landowners who lease lands to us for the wind farm expressed interest in solar as well, as did some of their neighbors. Having an interconnection facility already in place for the wind farm, it made sense for us to explore the option of developing a solar farm in the vicinity of the wind farm and use the same switching station to interconnect to the grid,” said Amaya.

“Like with our wind farm, we have already signed lease agreements with project area landowners for siting solar farm components on their lands. We also have easement agreements with various landowners to run our electrical lines across their properties.”

Amaya added that rental rates were negotiated with landowners on a case-by-case basis, and the company is required to keep lease and easement compensation rates confidential. The life of the operation is projected at 35 years.

The electricity produced at the Minonk solar farm would tie into the local high-voltage transmission network and supply power to many Illinois communities, including those in Woodford County, according to Amaya. “It is always our intent when developing these projects to provide green energy to support the local community,” he said.

Although a proposed map of the solar farm’s footprint was on display at the meeting (and is also viewable on Liberty’s website), Amaya and Woodford County Zoning Commissioner Lisa Jording confirmed that an official land use proposal had not yet been submitted to her office.

 The proposed map for the Minonk solar farm.
Liberty Power
/
Minonk Solar Project
The proposed map for the Minonk solar farm.

The first hour of the open house was sparsely attended, with Liberty employees and two Woodford County deputies making up the majority of those present. A few clusters of residents came through to look at a series of photographic displays and maps, have a snack and ask questions of Liberty personnel, whose company operates hydroelectric, wind, solar and thermal facilities in 13 states and parts of Canada.

“We hosted this event because we want to inform the community of our plans and we want to hear some feedback, so we can incorporate that into our site plan for the design and make sure those concerns are being addressed,” said Amaya.

In addition to receiving a special use permit from the zoning board to begin construction, Liberty officials also must adhere to more than 20 cultural, socioeconomic, environmental, ecological and land and title assessments, reviews, surveys and analysis before the project may be approved.

“Some are internal guidelines that we follow, others are local and state guidelines that we have to meet as part of our due diligence,” Amaya said.

Liberty officials are actively meeting with local landowners to secure easements and contracts for the solar farm, with most lease agreements required for the project already signed. At the same time, the company has applied for an interconnection permit from state and local regulators to allow it to tap into the existing transmission network. Interconnection approval could take several months to a year.

By the time all landowner contracts have been signed, local and state permits, and studies and assessments are completed, Amaya estimates it could be 2024 before a construction design could be finalized. Construction would begin in 2025 and likely finish in 2026, according to the company’s displayed timeline for the project.

“For us as a company, it is most important that we partner with the community and the neighbors. It is our intent to support the community. We do not want them to feel we are invading their property, but to the contrary: we are here to boost your local economy, we’re here to bring jobs and we’re here to partner with them,” said Amaya, adding that taxes collected by Minonk and Woodford County generated by Liberty can be used to improve roads and schools.

According to Liberty, as many as 2,000 acres of crop and pasture land will be used to complete the solar farm, though not all of the land will have to be taken out of agricultural production. While Amaya and Liberty officials would not comment on compensation for farm landowners, the online Minonk Talk newsletter reported on March 2 that payments would range from $600 to $700 per acre each year.

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