If a new solar power-generating facility wants to plant roots in Plato Township, it will have to shine through the cloud of an unfavorable vote a Kane County Board committee took this week.
The project would locate on 19 acres near the southeast corner of Rohrsen and Rippburger Roads. Bill French, the regional director of project development for Sunvest Solar Inc., told the county board's development committee this is the only suitable site in the area close enough to a power substation. And his attorney, James Griffin, said there is no documented reason to be wary of solar projects.
"No noise. No increased traffic. No emissions. No odors. The panels have a low height profile of less than 10 feet. And there are no negative impacts on property values," Griffin said.
But neighbors and township officials lined up against the program.
Plato Township Trustee Tim Maroder said the community embraces solar power and welcomes the business, just not in the location this project envisions.
Maroder said such facilities are better suited to the outskirts of towns, away from residential property. He said he believes the facility may hurt residential property values.
Neighbor Deborah Jenssen wasn't as concerned about the monetary value of her property as she was the view from her windows.
"It has a fence that looks like a prison," Jensson said. "I'm not against the solar, but 50 feet from my property line? That's what I get to look at for the rest of my life? I beg of you. Please, say 'no' to that site. They have so many other places they can go."
Township officials suggested that nearby property owned by the local school district or forest preserve property would be a better fit. Siting the first solar facility will be an important precedent.
"These facilities, they are out there, and they are coming," Maroder said. "You guys are going to see dozens and dozens. We want it. But be selective."
To Maroder's point, the Sunvest project is just one of many applying for participation in the Illinois Power Agency's Community Solar Garden program, which opens Jan. 15. The expectation is for a highly competitive inclusion process as developers believe only so many megawatts will be accepted in the initial projects.
To be considered, projects must have land and permit entitlements in hand by the time the program opens.
With that deadline in mind, county officials tried to ease local concerns by calling for an unprecedented 300-foot setback from the property line for any solar panels.
French said that would kill the project by slashing in half the number of panels the site could host.
The committee then voted against granting a special use permit for the facility.
The full county board will have the final say in a vote Tuesday, Jan. 8.