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Proposed solar array in Perry County could be the biggest in the state

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Tuesday, March 6, 2018  |  Article  |  ISAAC SMITH The Southern

Energy, Alternative Energy (93) Bryant, Terri--State House, 115
PICKNEYVILLE — A recently inked agreement between Wabash Valley Power energy co-op members and Prairie State Solar Project will be historic for two reasons — officials say it will bring the largest-ever solar array in Illinois to Perry County and will more than double the state’s solar energy output.

According to a news release from WVP, the co-op just signed a long-term agreement to be the sole purchaser of power from Prairie State’s Perry County array for the next 30 years.

The release said the array, which will produce about 99 megawatts of power, is being built on private property by New York-based Ranger Power, a utility-scale solar development company.

Groundbreaking is slated to begin in 2019 with operations to begin in 2021. The energy generated is estimated to be able to power about 15,000 homes.

In the release, it is estimated that the project will bring nearly $100 million of new investment in southwestern Illinois and will also contribute millions in tax revenue.

"We're excited to be one step closer to moving forward with this meaningful investment in our country, which will support new jobs and new revenues for our community to invest in schools, roads and bridges," State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said in the news release.

The release states the project supports the objectives of Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, which went into effect last year and requires at least 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind energy to be built in the state by 2030. It will also create an estimated 200 jobs during the construction phase, and three to five full-time positions once the site is operational.

Zoning for the array, which will sit in the northwest corner of the county, has been one of the biggest questions for the county. Becky Tracy, zoning coordinator for Perry County, said the county, along with others in the region, began getting calls from solar companies late last summer, asking about zoning for solar farms.

She said it was then that the county realized it didn’t have anything too specific on the books. She said they didn’t want to miss the boat on the development by acting slowly.

“We better get on this if this is happening,” Tracy said of the sentiment of the zoning board. She said Perry County borrowed and modified the Kankakee ordinance.

One of the primary concerns, Tracy said, was decommissioning of the property at the end of the project.

“I guess one of the biggest concerns from our standpoint is if it’s stopped or there is not operation anymore we want it to be restored and the land (returned) to its original use,” Gary Reidelberger, chair of the zoning committee, said. He said they also had to take into account the adjacent landowners.

As for how the project will be taxed, that’s still up in the air.

“I believe our legislature is working on that taxing information right now,” Tracy said.

Even with that uncertainty, county board chair Jim Epplin said the development is a positive for Perry County.

“Anytime you can bring any tax base into the county it’s a good thing,” he said.