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Bills makes it easier for a ‘booming’ business to shine

Local solar projects will benefit from legislation that sets construction, tax assessment standards

DIXON – Solar farm companies are lining up developments throughout the area, and the governor recently signed legislation creating state standards for communities to tax them.

The solar farm floodgates opened after the state passed the Future Energy Jobs Act in late 2016 that requires utility companies to get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, and a lottery was created for what projects get picked up by utilities like ComEd to connect to their grid.

Energy companies have been ironing out lease agreements with landowners and pursuing special-use permits from several counties across the Sauk Valley with the projects contingent on being drawn from the lottery, which also comes with tax incentives and rebates.

The Lee County Board has granted special use permits for three 2-megawatt solar farms and is slated to vote on another five proposals Tuesday.

The Illinois Solar Energy Association estimates solar farms will bring in an average of $6,000 to $8,000 per megawatt a year in property taxes, and developments are typically expected to last about 3 decades.

The estimate comes after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 486 on Friday, which sets a standard tax assessment value for solar farms.

“The clean energy business is booming in Illinois. New laws means farmers and rural communities reap the benefit of solar development,” Rauner said on social media about the legislation.

Once the solar project is decommissioned, the land goes back to its previous farmland designation for tax purposes, according to the bill.

“Solar businesses are ready and willing to create new jobs, clean energy and tax revenue to support Illinois communities. This bill provides a framework for us to move forward,” Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, said in a news release Monday. “The solar industry was proud to work with the Farm Bureau, county tax assessors and school districts to develop smart solar legislation that benefits all Illinoisans.”

Earlier this summer, the governor also approved Senate Bill 2591 that sets standards for solar farm construction and decommissioning geared toward preserving farmland.

It makes solar farms subject to the same agricultural requirement as wind farms where companies need to undergo agricultural impact mitigation agreements with the Illinois Department of Agriculture promising to compensate landowners for impacts to agricultural use and to return land to farmable condition after the sunset of the project.

Most of the projects being proposed throughout the area are 2-megawatt systems that take up almost a dozen acres, ranging from blighted sites to prime farmland, and can deliver power to about 350 homes.

Solar farms aren’t held to the same strict standards when it comes to constructing on prime farmland since the panels are mounted on stakes driven into the ground and surrounded by low-growing native grasses, leaving much of the ground untouched, making it easier to return the land to agricultural use.

Larger projects are being proposed in Whiteside, Bureau and Ogle counties.

In May, the Whiteside County Board approved a lease with Roseville, Minnesota-based IPS Solar, which plans to build a 10 megawatt solar farm on about 105 acres of property at the closed Prairie Hill landfill at 18762 Lincoln Road in Morrison.

In December, the Bureau County Board approved conditional-use permits for a $31 million Hoover Solar LLC farm, which will be built on 313 acres in the northwestern part of the county, near New Bedford, by developer Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, California.

Pennsylvania-based SunEast Development is looking to develop a 147-acre, 20-megawatt solar farm in the 7000 block of East Hales Corner in Stillman Valley in Ogle County.

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