Champaign County Board committee OKs zoning change for solar farms

Champaign County Board committee OKs zoning change for solar farms

URBANA — Solar farms could soon become a reality in rural Champaign County.

On Thursday night, the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee voted 4-0 to recommend amending the zoning ordinance to allow photovoltaic solar farms on certain agricultural properties. The amendment that was approved would require solar-farm companies to provide a letter of credit covering the eventual costs of decommissioning solar farms no longer in use.

Photovoltaic solar energy produces power by the use of cells that generate electricity when struck by light.

Similar to a wind farm, establishment of a PV solar farm would require a special permit from the Champaign County Board that is only allowed in AG-1 and AG-2 agricultural zoning districts.

The full county board will consider final approval of the ordinance amendment on Aug. 23.

In the event that the proposal passes, the first solar farm public hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 30.

Committee Chairman Aaron Esry said that he is aware of multiple proposals to start up solar farms in the county, including a possible 1,200- to 1,300-acre wind farm near Sidney proposed by Irvine, Calif.-based BayWa r.e.

So far, the county has received seven applications for solar farms, officials said.

Committee Vice Chairwoman Pattsi Petrie said she remains concerned that the setbacks for the solar farms may not be far enough to protect the public from sounds they may produce.

"I wasn't willing to make an amendment to change the setback now," Petrie said. "After a solar farm has been up and running for a year, we should go out and check how it is working."

In other business, the committee voted 4-0 to approve a recreation and entertainment license for the Luke Bryan concert, to be held in a field northwest of Pesotum on Sept. 26.