The first commercial solar farm in Marshall County is expected to be constructed next year at the north edge of Lacon, the City Council was told last week.
The solar array for the two-megawatt installation will be laid out across about 11 acres near the intersection of 14th and High streets, just outside the city limits, an official from Milwaukee-based SunVest Solar Inc. told the council.
“Timing-wise, we probably won’t get started on this until next year,” said Bill French, regional director of project development. “We’ll break ground in late spring or early summer.”
The site was the only one of 14 similar proposed projects in the county to have been selected in a state lottery in April to receive renewable energy credits considered necessary for economic viability. The 13 others had received zoning permits and met other requirements but were not among the 34 projects randomly selected from a total of 486 community solar applicants in territory served by Ameren Illinois.
An earlier story incorrectly reported that none of the 14 projects had won spots in the lottery, but that was because the initial results released by the Illinois Power Agency listed the site outside Lacon as being near Magnolia in Putnam County. There is no project planned near Magnolia, though one in the Putnam County village of Granville was selected in the lottery.
The 14th Street project was originally developed by Minnesota-based Innovative Power Systems Inc., one of four firms that targeted sites in the county. But it and other IPS projects in the state were later taken over by SunVest, French said.
“We bought IPS’ entire portfolio,” he said.
Unlike some others in Marshall County and elsewhere, the project sparked no opposition from neighbours when it was approved for a special use permit by both the Zoning Board of Appeals and County Board. The tract of land where the panels will be erected really isn’t very visible from elsewhere, French noted.
“This location is a good location for everybody,” he said, “because it’s kind of tucked away.”
As with other community solar projects, it will be possible for area residents or businesses to obtain subscriptions that could reduce their electricity bills, French said. Developers can get incentives for serving residential users, and the company’s goal will be to have 75% of subscriptions in that category, he added.
In terms of overall capacity, “The rule of thumb is that one megawatt equals 200 homes, so this would be (capable of powering) 400,” French said.
Two of the projects not chosen in the lottery were within the city limits, including one on city-owned property from which officials had hoped to receive $1,300 annual rent per acre to far exceed the current income from cropland. But with a project coming on land adjacent to the city limits, Alderman Ron Schoof suggested that the city might be able to boost revenues through the property tax increase that will occur when the solar installation starts operating.
“I think we ought to look at annexing that into the city,” Schoof said.
Depending on the specific locations, a two-megawatt solar farm in the county would be expected to generate a total of about $15,000 a year in tax revenues, according to information presented at earlier public hearings. Property taxes are typically paid by the owner of the installation, and that would be the case with the SunVest project, French said.
Projects not selected in the April lottery were placed on a waiting list, but the meaning of that status remains somewhat unclear, as the state has so far provided no funding for further rounds. One ambitious effort to drive development of solar and wind energy is legislation called the Path to 100 Act, which would aim to expand renewable energy in the state from a projected 7% in 2020 to 40% in 2030 and eventually toward 100%.
“They’re talking about how to fund the next round (of the lottery),” French said. “The Path to 100 looks like the best way, but that probably would not be until next year.”