URBANA — Champaign County's largest private solar farm is a step closer to becoming a reality.
On Thursday, the Champaign County Environment and Land Use Committee voted 6-0 to recommend that the county board approve a 150-megawatt solar farm proposed by Irvine, Calif.-based Bay-Wa r.e. Development LLC.
All the solar farms previously approved by the county board have been 2- to 4-megawatt facilities.
Not one person spoke out against the project at Thursday's meeting.
If the development, to be called Prairie Solar, gets final approval from the board on Jan. 24, Bay-Wa r.e. plans to build it on 1,609 acres of land east and south of Sidney.
The solar farm itself would only take up 1,191 acres of that property, according to attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Meyer Capel, who represents the developer.
"This is not a permanent conversion of the farmland. This is temporary use," Fitzgerald said. "The fact this soil will rest for 30 to 40 years will make it more productive when it returns to production."
As proposed, the farm, which would have 555,552 solar modules surrounded by a 7-foot-tall wire fence, would extend from about a half-mile east of the Sidney village limits to 3 miles east of the village, according to Zoning Administrator John Hall.
"This would definitely be the largest private solar farm in the county, and it might be the largest private solar farm in the entire state," Hall said.
Fitzgerald said the company had reached long-term lease agreements with 16 participating landowners. He called Prairie Solar a $250 million investment in Champaign County.
Construction would be set to begin in 2021, and last about 18 months.
Fitzgerald said Prairie Solar would create about 15 permanent operations and maintenance jobs for electricians, network and communications technicians, landscapers, and others. Prairie Solar will employ locally if at all possible, he said.
"For jobs like mowing the grass, we will hire local," development manager Patrick Brown said.
Brown said he does not anticipate drilling any water wells for the project.
"Bay-Wa has a strong commitment to being a good corporate citizen," Fitzgerald said. "The proposed Prairie Solar facility satisfies and, in many aspects, exceeds the requirements of the Champaign County solar ordinance."
Fitzgerald said in cooperation with landowners, the entire project area will be pattern-tiled so as to not disturb drainage.
Fitzgerald also announced Thursday night that the Illinois Power Authority has awarded the Prairie Solar facility a full subscription of renewable-energy credits, which would lower the price of electricity to the buyer.
The project was previously approved by the county's Zoning Board of Appeals on Nov. 29 in a 4-2 vote.