BELVIDERE — Farmer Cheryl Sturges received a letter this summer offering $1,000 an acre for 20 years if she permitted Cypress Creek Renewables to put solar panels where crops normally would grow.
While Sturges had no problems refusing, she soon learned at least one neighbor had accepted the company’s deal.
Sturges and about 20 others are mounting a defense to ensure Boone County officials attach a long list of conditions to whatever rules they create for Cypress Creek and other companies that would build solar farms in the county.
“This is definitely an industrial use,” Sturges said. “It definitely is not a farm. That’s where our concern is. What happens if it goes belly up? Who’s going to take care of it? They’re creating jobs. They’re also taking away from the agrarian job market. I’m not totally opposed to it. But this is primary farm ground.”
She has provided the Boone County Planning, Zoning and Building Committee with two pages of concerns and requests that any new solar ordinance mandate the following:
• a decommissioning plan;
• solar panels must not contain hazardous materials; and
• “reasonable” setbacks that include buffering, landscaping and even fencing.
Cypress Creek is supposed to appear at the committee’s October meeting.
The company has been sending letters to Illinois farmers throughout the region. It has been working with Boone County so it can build two more solar farms, the first for Boone County — along Reeds Crossing Road between Genoa and Spring Center roads, and off of Illinois 173, east of Capron.
“If anything is done here, it needs to be workable with the citizens of the community as well as with the farmers,” said Denny Ellingson, the PZB committee’s chairman.
According to Hilary Rottmann, Boone County land use planner, the solar farms would be considered energy facilities generating 1 megawatt or greater. A megawatt is equal to one million watts.
She presented PZB committee members with a spreadsheet earlier this month that detailed how other communities have handled solar proposals. Some ordinances included landscaping buffers, noise buffers and fences.
For example, Kankakee County’s ordinance has decommission requirements including “removal of all development, restoration to condition prior to development, time frame of completion, (guarantee of) financial resources available to fully decommission site, (and) updat(ing) plan every three years.”
“It ultimately goes to the board,” County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said. “It’s very complex. It’s going to take a lot of time” to draft a solar ordinance.
County leaders have said they could attach conditions to any special-use permits considered for Cypress Creek if the solar ordinance takes time to finalize.
“We’re getting a lot of concerned citizens, but we’re not really getting a lot of protest,” Ellingson said.
Boone County has gone through controversial rules governing renewable energy farms before. Chicago-based Mainstream Renewable Power killed its wind turbine plans indefinitely in 2016, saying a more restrictive county ordinance made it too difficult to proceed.