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Cortland-area solar project advances after state lotto

Megan Gerwig of Sycamore speaks during public comment during the DeKalb County Board's  special meeting Feb. 11 at the county's legislative center in Sycamore.
Megan Gerwig of Sycamore speaks during public comment during the DeKalb County Board's special meeting Feb. 11 at the county's legislative center in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – One of two of the most contentious solar projects approved in DeKalb County is among the projects that were awarded renewable energy credits by the Illinois Power Agency.

The 2-megawatt community solar energy project came from U.S. Solar and is proposed to be built by Airport and Bethany roads in Cortland Township. The project was one of two that went back and forth between the Planning Commission and the DeKalb County Board, over concerns about a lack of compromise between the developer and affected neighbors living at eight nearby residential properties, before it finally was approved Feb. 11.

Derek Hiland, community development director for DeKalb County, said all of the projects that were picked by the state lottery April 11 have conditions as part of their special use permits with the county. He said some of those conditions include drain tile surveys and additional landscaping plans for screening between neighboring residents and the projects.

“If they did not meet the conditions established in the special use permit, then they wouldn’t be compliant with the special use permit and wouldn’t be allowed to move forward,” Hiland said.

The County Board required U.S. Solar to create screening that would block at least 50% of the view of the project, as seen from the first floor of each residence, for the eight affected neighbors on Airport Road within seven years. That must be met either by planting more trees on the project site, on neighbors’ properties or both.

Affected residents were skeptical about whether the company could meet the county’s screening standards for the project, since the property is on a 100-foot slope, with the houses at the top of the slope and the project at the bottom.

Hiland said he was told project developers have a few more steps to take before they can proceed. He said they still need to have their projects’ lottery results approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission and they will need to create interconnection agreements with ComEd.

“I fully expect all seven sites to move forward,” Hiland said.

Hiland said one wrinkle developers might encounter is prices coming back higher than expected for the interconnection agreements and required project improvements. He said he is not sure about what would happen to waitlisted projects, with one possibility being that the next in line would be moved up for approval should any other projects’ cost projections not pan out. 

Other projects that were selected through the state lottery include proposed developments in DeKalb, Cortland, Kirkland, Lee, Sandwich and Somonauk. The selected projects were seven out of about 50 that were approved by the DeKalb County Board since the county’s solar ordinance went into effect April 1, 2018.

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