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Local

Here comes the sun

Grundy County is ground zero for solar farm expansion in the area

A view of a portion of the solar farm east of Streator in Otter Creek Township.
A view of a portion of the solar farm east of Streator in Otter Creek Township.

MORRIS – Grundy County and the surrounding area isn't short on energy. There are three nuclear plants in the region, wind farms, biofuel plants and soon, possibly, solar farms will dot the area.

By July, there could be as many as seven solar farms of various sizes permitted in Grundy County. The Illinois Commerce Commission has set an October deadline for permits before a bidding process for energy credits.

"That's why seeing such a mad rush coming through our doors," said Grundy County Land Use Director Heidi Miller. The majority of the projects approved in Grundy County are through a firm called Cypress Creek Renewables.

The idea of solar farms is not new to the area. Grundy County has had an ordinance for solar farms since 2012, and that ordinance if one of the reasons the county has been so attractive to developers.

"What I've heard from developers is Grundy County was ready," Miller said. "We had the ordinance in place and could process the petition efficiently."

There was some opposition when during infromational sessions in 2016, with some area farmers saying it wasn't good for the county or the area, and lamenting the loss of farmland. But since then, applications have been passed through the county process with little to no opposition.

Even though the county is approving the farms, that's no guarantee that there will be seven solar farms across the county. There is still a bidding process at the state level to acquire the credits to operate the farms. Not every proposed farm may get to operate.

The farms would provide an economic boost.

Nancy Norton, presdient and chief executive officers of Grundy County Economic Development, said that some jobs would initially be created by the construction of the farms.

"Primarily the jobs are on the front end on the construction side," Norton said. "There would be a handful of maintenance jobs, but once the farms are in there, they're pretty self sustaining."

The longterm economic benefits from the solar farms come from the property taxes. A plot of land with a solar farm on it will pay more in property taxes than agricultural land alone, and that can be good for rural taxing districts that don't have other types of development.

In Springfield, the Illinois House and Senate both passed Senate Bill 486, which will regulate assessing land with solar farms uniformly across the state, in the same way wind farms currently are.

"I think they're going to have a positive impact in the region," Norton said. "Grund County has a long history of being an energy producing county. Wind, nuclear, natural gas, biofuelds and now we have solar. I would say that it is a net gain."

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