ZBA Recommends Approval of Solar Farm Applications

 David Sandage owns the Arrowsmith farm where Cypress Creek Renewables plans to build two of three proposed solar developments in McLean County.  (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

David Sandage owns the Arrowsmith farm where Cypress Creek Renewables plans to build two of three proposed solar developments in McLean County.  (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

The McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved special use permits for three solar projects Wednesday night, given that developer Cypress Creek Renewables agreed to some stipulations.

The company will need to repair any damage caused to decades-old drain tiles during construction, as well as set aside money for a decommissioning fund, provide contact information for residents to voice complaints and look into planting pollinator-friendly ground cover.

Cypress Creek estimates each $3.9M, 2MW (megawatt) project would generate 25 full-time jobs during construction, injecting $2.3M of local spending into McLean County.

Board members voiced concerns Wednesday night over the future of food production in the County if solar developers follow Cypress Creek’s lead in siting projects on some of the nation’s richest farmland.

The proposed solar farms span a combined 80 acres of land in Arrowsmith and Downs. David Sandage owns the 110-acre farm in Arrowsmith where Cypress Creek plans to build two of three solar developments. 

Sandage told the board he and his wife struggled with the decision to lease part of their family farm for solar development, taking 50 acres of corn out of production for the project’s estimated 40-year lifespan.

“We worship this ground… we don’t take any of this lightly,” he said. “But the numbers just make sense.” 

Sandage said rising costs and an overabundance of corn on the market have made it harder to profit from the crop. “I don’t have to take you more than a half-mile from my house to show you 80 acres that’s been laid out for 40 years because people can’t make any money off of it,” he said.

Illinois law requires large utility companies like Ameren to source 25% of electricity sales from renewable energy suppliers by 2025, drawing in out-of-state developments. The state’s large, relatively flat pieces of farmland are also ideal for larger solar projects, said Scott Novack, a senior developer for Cypress Creek.

Still, Novack assured board members the growing solar industry won’t just gobble up the state’s farmland. Even if developers only built on farmland to meet the state-determined mix of solar energy toward its goal, Novak said they’d take just 30,000 of 27 million total acres, or 0.001%, out of production.

“When you think about a 20-acre farm, it sounds like a lot,” he said. “On a relative basis, it’s a small amount.”

What’s Next?

The solar farm applications go before the McLean County Board for deliberation at its next meeting, 9:00 a.m., February 20.

The ZBA will meet again at 6:00 p.m. Thursday to consider a special use permit application for the Bright Stalk Wind Farm, EDP Renewables’ proposed 200MW project near Chenoa.

Both meetings will be in Room 400 of the Government Center, 115 E. Washington St., Bloomington.