Editorial | Champaign County moves into solar-power age

Editorial | Champaign County moves into solar-power age

Thanks to the 2016 adoption of the Illinois Future Jobs Act, counties all over Illinois are acting on solar-farm ordinances and proposed solar farms. Champaign County joined the parade last week with the adoption of a solar-farm ordinance.

At the time the Legislature passed the Illinois Future Jobs Act in December 2016, much of the attention about the law was focused on how it included bailout provisions for two Exelon-owned nuclear power plants, including one near Clinton. More recently, though, we're becoming familiar with its provision that requires Illinois utilities to get 25 percent of their retail power from renewable sources like wind and solar.

In every corner of the state, including Champaign County, private developers are stepping up to build solar farms that they say will benefit farmers, rural communities, consumers, air quality and power generators.

But the solar farms are not without controversy. Concerns have been expressed about the loss of farmland, visual pollution, noise generation and the possibility that solar panels contain hazardous chemicals. Some of those concerns were expressed in hearings before boards and committees in Champaign County.

Officials heard the testimony, however, and were satisfied that enough safeguards were in place to permit photovoltaic solar farms on some agriculture-zoned land in Champaign County. County board members approved a solar farm ordinance last Thursday, 19-3.

There already are seven applications to build solar farms in the county, said Zoning Administrator John Hall, with most of them in rural areas on the eastern side of the county near St. Joseph and Sidney.

Just because there are seven proposals for solar farms in the county doesn't mean that broad areas of some of the richest farmland in the world soon will be covered with solar panels. Each of the solar farms proposed in the county will require waivers in order to be built, Hall said. And the sheer number of projects proposed in Illinois — Kankakee County alone has 25 — makes it unlikely that they'll all be feasible.

But the first two solar farm proposals for Champaign County, both from Community Power Group LLC, already are on the agenda of the county zoning board of appeals this week.

One would be on a 58-acre tract in St. Joseph Township, north of the St. Joseph Sportsman Club.

The other would be built on a 37-acre tract in Ludlow Township, just north of Rantoul.

Champaign County, aside from a 21-acre solar farm that has served the University of Illinois since November 2015, is about to enter the solar power age with the same promise and trepidation it entered the wind power era.

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