Neighbors voice opposition to Aqua Illinois' planned solar array

Neighbors voice opposition to Aqua Illinois' planned solar array

DANVILLE — Some residents whose properties back up to an Aqua Illinois site where the water company plans to install a solar array in an effort to save about $100,000 a year in operating costs are hoping aldermen stop the project.

The expected savings on Aqua's electric bill would not result in lower water rates for its customers in the Danville area, according to Bob Ervin, area manager for Aqua Illinois.

"But it would allow us to stay out of that rate (increase) arena for a longer time," he told the city's planning and zoning commission, which recommended a zoning change to allow the solar project to be built on 10 acres of undeveloped wooded property just north of Aqua's water-treatment plant on East Fairchild Street, next to OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Last month, the zoning commission overwhelmingly recommended granting the developer, Sol Systems Inc., a special-use permit to build the array. The city council will discuss the request at its meeting at 6 p.m. today at the Robert E. Jones Municipal Building, 17 W. Main St.

Zoning Commissioner Ted Vacketta said he was supporting the request because the petitioner has made changes to the project — including increasing setbacks and making it a fixed array — and because the property's owner should be able to make use of it, and in this case, there would be some benefit to Aqua's customers.

Ervin said the property is currently unproductive land that would be made useful with the solar array. He said Aqua officials met with neighboring property owners and made some changes to its plans, including moving the array farther away. He said there would be at least a 150-foot-wide wooded barrier between the solar array and residential property lines.

The nearby residences on North Logan Avenue and Westwood Place are roughly 60 feet higher than the water-treatment plant that sits along the North Fork River.

Residents Bill and Sue Garrison were among several property owners on Logan and Westwood who objected to the project at the zoning meeting, with Bill Garrison criticizing the proposed removal of many trees that benefit wildlife, provide shade and oxygen, and serve as a noise barrier for the adjacent properties.

Residents who oppose the plan told the zoning commission that replacing that wooded area with a solar array would create a less desirable view from their properties and possibly create glare, especially during the winter months, when there are no leaves on trees and little vegetation in the buffer between their backyards and the array.

The residents maintain that this will negatively impact their property values.

Bill Garrison said he believes there are viable options for this project to be located elsewhere.

Lynn McLinden, who lives on Westwood, also objected to the project for several reasons, including concern with third-party investors buying the solar array from Sol Systems, the Washington, D.C.-based company that would have a 25-year agreement with Aqua to lease this site, develop the solar array and then sell the power generated to Aqua.

Rich Baltimore, project development manager with Sol Systems, said there's a 50-50 chance the company would sell the project to third-party investors.

The proposed array is one of the projects approved earlier this spring by the Illinois Power Agency to receive renewable-energy credits made possible by the state's Future Energy Jobs Act.

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