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McLean County approves 2 solar farms and final property tax breaks for Rivian and Brandt

McLean County Board members are seated at the June 16 meeting.
Eric Stock
McLean County Board members met on Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Because builders of two solar farms in McLean County plan to hire local laborers for the construction, the County Board approved special-use permits for both projects during its monthly meeting on Thursday.

The board also approved the final year of property tax abatements for Rivian Automotive and Brandt Industries and OK'd a new contract to address a nursing shortage at the McLean County jail.

Solar farms

Last month, the McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals endorsed Towanda Solar, a 5-megawatt solar farm southwest of Bloomington in Dale Township, but the county board delayed voting on the $7 million project to ensure local labor was hired for construction.

The zoning board gave preliminary approval earlier this month for Breezewood Solar, a $3.9 million project that includes a 2-megewatt solar farm south of Bloomington and north of the U.S. 51 and Interstate 74 interchange.

Both projects won unanimous approval on Thursday.

Mike Raikes, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 197, urged board members to approve the projects.

“Residents will be able to subscribe to the community solar projects which will lower their electric bill and improve the reliability of the power grid,” Raikes said.

IBEW will assist construction, along with Laborers International Union North America (LiUNA) Local 362 and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 649.

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables has proposed both solar farms; they would be the second the third solar farms in McLean County.

County board vice chair Jim Soeldner, who filled in for chair John McIntyre at the meeting, said he anticipates the county will get more solar farm applications after the state approved clean energy incentives, though he’s not sure how many more the county will want to allow.

“There’s going to someday be an end just because we are going to run out of room after a while,” Soeldner said. “I expect for us to approve at least one or two more and I think it’s going to depend on the size of the ones that are proposed and where they are located.”

Towanda Solar will be the county’s largest solar farm.

Rivian, Brandt tax abatements

In another matter, the county board agreed to abate 2021 property taxes for electric vehicle-maker Rivian and agriculture manufacturer Brandt Industries because both companies met annual hiring benchmarks set in their five-year redevelopment agreements.

Rivian employed more than the minimum 500 workers required and exceeded the $40.5 million in investment to receive its tax break, according to the Bloomington Normal Economic Development Council (EDC).

The EDC noted Rivian has reached 5,700 employees, making it the second-largest employer in the county, behind State Farm.

Brandt exceeded its requirement of employing 125 full-time workers last year, said the EDC.

Several other taxing bodies already have signed off the tax abatements, including Unit 5 schools, the Town of Normal, Heartland Community College and the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority.

This is the final year of property tax abatements for both companies.

Jail nursing shortage

The board also approved a $2.18 million contract with Advanced Professional Healthcare of Peoria to provide additional nursing staff at the county jail. Citing what they call a “pervasive shortage,” county officials say the jail will be down to one full-time and three part-time nurses starting in July. The three-year contract runs through June 2025.

“We think it is going to establish continuity with our medical community within the jail,” said county administrator Cassy Taylor, adding, “We along with many people in the community are having a difficulty finding enough qualified nursing staff.”

In other business, the board:

— Signed off on a $359,775 contract with HJ Eppel & Co. of Pontiac to build the Meiners II bridge in Anchor Township in eastern McLean County.
— Recognized Cathy Coverston Anderson, assistant director of the McLean County Health Department, who is retiring on June 30 after 33 years with the department.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.