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McHenry County Board gives green light to Riley-area solar farm

The McHenry County Board unanimously approved a proposal Tuesday for construction of a solar farm in Riley Township that could power up to 60,000 homes.

The Board voted to approve the proposal by Pleasant Grove Solar, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, to construct a 300 megawatt solar farm on nearly 2,000 acres of land. Construction will begin on the project in spring 2022 with the farm set to begin operations in 2023.

“I think we’ve come up with a plan that really can be a perfect model, a best practice for this kind of practice,” said Jeff Neves, business development director for Duke Energy.

Pleasant Grove Solar is also planning to seek approval to expand the farm onto land within the city of Marengo, Riley Township, and Boone County, which would increase the farm’s size to 2,668 acres, according to Duke Energy’s proposal to the McHenry County Board.

“The project is an alternative energy source which will produce zero-emission energy to the electric grid and provide cost effective renewable energy to the public,” Duke documents states.

The farm will be located southeast of downtown Marengo on the north side of Interstate 90. Pleasant Grove Solar plans to build their own substation on the north side of the tollway and will work with Commonwealth Edison to build a switching station south of the tollway.

A map shows parts of unincorporated McHenry County southwest of Marengo where a solar farm will be built in 2022.

A map shows parts of unincorporated McHenry County southwest of Marengo where a solar farm will be built in 2022. (McHenry County/)

At the height of construction, which will take between 12 and 18 months, Duke estimates the project will create 300 construction jobs. When completed, four to seven people will be employed by Pleasant Grove Solar at a time.

Duke also estimates the project will generate $40.3 million in local tax revenue over the farm’s 35-year lifespan. The largest portion of the tax revenue, $16.8 million, is estimated to go to Riley School District 18, according to Duke documents.

“I believe this is the highest and best use from a landowner’s position,” said Kathy Meyer, one of 10 landowners in the unincorporated area who will lease land for the solar farm.

Environmental advocates are also excited and say the project is an important step toward creating an energy efficient future in McHenry County.

“[Solar energy] is the way the world is going so I’m very excited we have a project here that will help us get there,” Cynthia Kanner, executive director of Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, told the County Board on Tuesday.

Kanner said creating the solar farm in the county also will help the county meet new energy standards in the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, better known as CEJA, passed by state lawmakers earlier this fall. CEJA requires coal, oil, and natural gas electricity providers in Illinois to eliminate carbon emissions by 2045.

“The only way that will happen as we move away form extraction and harness energy from the sun is to work everywhere in our state,” Kanner said.

Others in McHenry County are excited about the project because it will create new educational opportunities.

“The proposed project would offer opportunities for my students to tour a utility-scale power plant that captures renewable energy, powers community stakeholders, and enhances grid stability,” said Ted Erski, an earth science instructor at McHenry County College who teaches a course on renewable energy that requires students to design their own solar farm.

Once completed, county notes indicate the solar farm will not change much for people for people who live nearby. County ordinances require natural vegetation to screen the solar panels from residences, which will also act as a natural snow fence during the winter. Noise is also not expected to be a factor when the solar panels are in operation, according to the county’s assessment.

In the summer, Woodstock City Council gave approval to extend a permit to build a solar farm that would be able to power 150 homes near Route 14 and Lily Pond Road. The project has had an active permit for three years and construction has not yet started, but officials say construction should begin next summer.

Last month, the DeKalb County Board also approved construction for 6,000 acres of solar farm construction. Discussions are also ongoing about building a solar farm in the city of DeKalb near the airport.

Duke Energy is also continuing to pushing for building a solar farm near Dixon. The proposal was previously rejected by the Lee County Board earlier this year.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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