THE ISSUE: First of 9 solar farms slated for La Salle County moves forward
OUR VIEW: State credit program a good tool in reaching energy diversity goal
We’re nearing the darkest days of the year, from a meteorological standpoint, but looking ahead to a time when solar farms will increasingly dot the rural landscape.
Last week, Brian Gift said construction on a Soltage IL project to be built along U.S. 34 east of Mendota could begin in the spring after the owners applied for a building permit.
The Voltage facility is just one of nine solar farms planned for La Salle County that qualified for Illinois Power Agency renewable energy credits. Those nine account for about 8 percent of the overall grant recipient field — 112 projects awarded in April out of 909 submittals — and include efforts in Streator, Tonica, Troy Grove, Lostant and Somonauk.
Solar farms aren’t new to La Salle County — there’s already a 160-acre project on the southeast corner of East 21st Road and North 15th Road near the former Otter Creek-Hyatt Grade School east of Streator.
Gift, director of the county’s Environmental Services and Land Use office, said he hasn’t talked to the people behind the other eight projects, but predicted some could be on a similar timeline to the Mendota farm. Developers likely are still chasing paperwork to ensure the county will issue permits and the state will come through with funding.
The interest is clear, too, since there were at least 31 other local projects in that group of 909 — about 4 percent of the total overall field. The Zoning Board of Appeals signed off on all those applications, so whether there’s a wait for another round of state credits or some other economic incentive approaches — even just a friendly construction climate — we certainly expect the trend to continue.
The state financing program wouldn’t be possible without the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act. At the time it was enacted the chief public focus of the bill was on the nuclear generation facilities Exelon threatened to decommission absent its passage. But the legislation also set a goal of making a quarter of the state’s power production from sources like wind and solar farms by 2025, and the credits are an excellent tool in achieving that benchmark.
We don’t want to see all of our prime cropland plowed up and converted into solar panels, but there are places where such farms are an efficient use of land, fostering diversity in both the local economy and the power grid, and they represent an evolution into a new modern era for farmers and utilities.
Like the Otter Creek operation and the soon-to-start Mendota effort, we look forward to seeing how solar will continue to grow and change in La Salle County and encourage elected officials to monitor closely what makes the most sense for our long-term future.