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Local

DeKalb County draft solar ordinance garners support; caution urged at public hearing

Jamie Walter, founder of Whiskey Acres, asked several questions and sought clarifications in the DeKalb County draft solar ordinance during a public hearing Wednesday at the county's Legislative Center in Sycamore.
Jamie Walter, founder of Whiskey Acres, asked several questions and sought clarifications in the DeKalb County draft solar ordinance during a public hearing Wednesday at the county's Legislative Center in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – A statement by Ann Carlson of South Grove Township during a public hearing about DeKalb County’s solar energy ordinance summed up a meeting that seemed cautious, but largely in favor, of the proposed ordinance.

“Don’t rush this,” she said.

For more than an hour, hearing officer Dale Clark, DeKalb County community development director Derek Hiland and assistant director Marcellus Anderson heard comments and answered questions from county residents and representatives of businesses located outside the county on the draft ordinance.

Jamie Walter, founder of Whiskey Acres and owner of Integrated Farms, had the most thorough questions during the hearing.

He asked for clarifications on several definitions and for definitions on other terms within the ordinance and he noted areas that could contradict one another.

He said he was doing it because he was in favor of bringing solar energy to the county.

“We wanna use it,” he said.

But there were provisions in the ordinance that would make it impractical.

For example, the ordinance defines a solar garden as 5 acres, but Walter said his research has shown that community solar producing
2 megawatts, which he said is the ideal size for producing energy and tapping into incentives offered by the state of Illinois, would necessitate a farm between 12 and 18 acres in size.

“Make it something more meaningful, like 20 acres,” he suggested.

Earlier in the meeting, Hiland was unable to answer a question about why solar gardens were limited to 5 acres in the first place, as he was not able to remember why that limit was chosen.

The draft ordinance names two classifications of solar complexes: gardens and farms.

Walter suggested renaming the gardens as community solar because that’s the phrase used by the state guidelines.

Chris Lannert, president of the Lannert Group, a community planning and consulting firm, suggested three classifications, with garden being the smallest.

“I think there is a reason to have a group of homeowners or a small industrial park or small commercial center get together and have a garden solar and not have to be 20 acres in size,” Lannert said. “That is a permitted use and very simple to obtain.”

About 10 other people came to speak in favor of the ordinance during the portion of the hearing that allowed for favorable comments.

Carlson was one of only two people who spoke during the opposition portion of the meeting, but said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of the ordinance.

Instead, she wanted to ensure that the farmland where the installations will go is protected, and she doesn’t want to see DeKalb County become a “battery for the Midwest.”

“I want this to be done right for all of us,” Carlson said. “Otherwise, we’re losing what we are. We’re heartland.”

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