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McLean County OKs New Solar Farms

McLean County Board
Eric Stock
The McLean County Board approved three new solar farm projects on Tuesday.

UPDATED 11:10 a.m. | McLean County has paved the way for three new solar farms to be built.

The County Board voted 17-2 on Tuesday on separate proposals for solar farms to be built near Downs, Heyworth, and Towanda.

Board member Catherine Metsker, R-Carlock, said the county is violating its 20-year comprehensive plan by taking prime farmland out of production.  

“Any farmer, true farmer, cannot compete with the high rents that these solar and wind farms are creating in our community,” Metsker said.

Board member Erik Rankin, D-Bloomington, objected to the characterization that putting up solar arrays could be considered taking farmland out of production.

“It is a landowner choosing to use their land in whatever way it is they see fit, and that is production in itself,” Rankin said. “Production is production.”

Board member Susan Schafer, R-Bloomington, voted for the solar farms, but said she’s not convinced the farmland will be fully restored after the solar farms are decommissioned.

“I haven’t seen any evidence yet as any of these solar farms as to any studies that have been done to say that is going to be put back the same way it was before it happened,” Schafer said.

Solar farm companies to supposed to cover the decommissioning cost for the county at $100,000 or $25,000 per megawatt, whichever is greater.

Board member and farmer Scott Murphy, R-Downs, said while he’s concerned about losing farmland for other purposes, he believes it’s the property owner’s right.

“This is their land and as long as they are not hurting their neighbors, they can do with it what they please,” Murphy said.

Board member Don Cavallini, R-Lexington, also voted against the solar farms.

The solar farm projects the McLean County Board approved on Tuesday:

  • Toronto-based Amp Solar Development: 2-megawatt project over 14 acres near Downs.
  • North Carolina-based Cypress Creek Renewables: 2-megawatt, 27-acre project near Towanda. (The county approved four previous Cypress Creek projects.)
  • Minneapolis-based Geronimo Energy: 4-megawatt, 40-acre project near Heyworth.

Other Amp Projects

Amp has two additional solar farm projects which the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals will consider on Sept. 4.

Amp resubmitted a proposal for a 4-megawatt, 29-acre solar farm on Hendrix Drive south of Bloomington to move it further away from several homes. ZBA previously gave no recommendation after several nearby residents said it was too close.

Amp is also requesting a special use permit for a solar farm near Crestwicke Country Club and U.S. 51. The zoning board allowed a variance for the solar farm to be within 30 feet of a single-family residence.

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Eric Stock is a reporter at WGLT.