McLean County has become fertile ground for developers seeking to build wind and solar farms.
That’s created a quandary for some County Board members who argue the county’s comprehensive plan doesn’t account for renewable energy.
The County Board on Tuesday approved three special-use permits for solar farm projects. Two of the solar farms would be located in Arrowsmith Township, and one would be at the site of the recently closed McLean County landfill in Bloomington and Dale townships at 2105 W. Oakland Ave.
The county’s most recent comprehensive plan was produced by the McLean County Regional Planning Commission in 2009. It advises the county to preserve its farmland to maximize its agricultural benefit, but emerging wind and solar technologies have left County Board members to decide for themselves if renewable energy meets that definition.
“I do not understand for the life of me why our comprehensive plan says that this is very high value for ag protection,” said County Board member David Selzer, R-Normal. “When you look up the definition for agriculture it talks about, I forget the exact words, but (it specifies) vegetable kinds of crops. It doesn’t talk about wind and it doesn’t talk about sun.”
Board member Josh Barnett, R-Bloomington, said farmers who wish to lease their land for renewable energy development are exercising the same rights they have to decide which crops they want to grow on their property.
“That doesn’t mean that we stop doing anything because the comprehensive plan hasn’t been updated,” Barnett said. “When you get to the end of that plan, there are different times when you have to call an audible on the field and make changes there.”
Board member Catherine Metsker, R-Carlock, has consistently raised concerns about farmland being used for wind and solar energy. She approved the solar farm at the former landfill site because its LESA (Land Evaluation and Site Assessment) score indicted its soil would not be suitable for agriculture.
Selzer voted for the solar farm permits, but suggested the county update its comprehensive plan.
County Administrator Bill Wasson said the Regional Planning Commission plans to update the plan in early 2019. He said wind and solar energy would likely be included.
“Based upon the conversations today, I’m sure it will be addressed,” Wasson said.
Wasson added its unlikely all of the 14 solar farm projects the county has approved will be built. Each project is seeking state tax credits, which could be awarded through a lottery system.
Social Media Policy
Wasson said county officials have been in talks over the last year to develop a policy to regulate the county’s use of social media.
He said many county departments, including Health and Park and Recreation, have created their own social media accounts.
“It’s just been a progression of, first, utilization and then a recognition that with that type of utilization and continued expansion of utilization, we probably need some formal processes in place so that we can best make use of social media channels,” Wasson said.
Efforts to adopt a social media policy come as McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael faces an ethics investigation alleging she used county property, in part, to view and post social media content that amounted to political campaigning.
While the county’s elected officials have generally been given wider latitude in setting and enforcing their own policies, Wasson said the intent of any new policy would be to cover all county employees.
“Policies that the County Board have adopted historically encompass all county employees and their departments and their responsibilities.” Wasson said.
Wasson said he expects staff will have a policy drafted for the County Board to consider in early 2019.
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