Proposed solar farms approved in committee, move on to full board

Large opposition from concerned citizens did not stop the Knox County Zoning Committee from approving the Geronimo Energy solar farms going up east of Galesburg.

Nearly twenty residents of the county gave public comment in opposition or at least not endorsing the solar farms.

Dan Tolley, a property owner north of the proposed solar farm, challenged the board to press Geronimo over questions that they hadn’t seen answers to.

Jim and Louise Turner opposed the location of the farm. Both stated that Geronimo and the county have not been forthright in addressing many of the concerns of the citizens.

Other speakers showed concern over hurting residential real estate development in the area including real estate broker Jamie Yemm, who said that she was concerned about property values, agricultural land usage, and environmental damage. She stressed that the location was not good for a solar farm.

Elaine Long is a landowner in the area who says her property is highly sought after for development, and was concerned that this would hurt those opportunities.

“Having an industrial looking facility – like a solar farm – with it’s reflective panels, it’s eight foot barbed wire fencing, and it’s “danger high voltage” signing is not what most developers of high-end golf and lakefront communities would find attractive to future homeowners,” Long said to the committee.

Other common themes from concerned citizens included: the number of jobs that Geronimo claims will be created, if those jobs would be Knox County jobs, and the environmental impact of the solar panels on agricultural land.

A handful of individuals spoke in favor including Jessica Linder Executive Director of the Galesburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development President Ken Springer. Both claimed that the emerging job markets in solar energy installation would be beneficial to the county.

Jim Purlee, a resident on West Fremont, indicated he was in favor of the solar project. He informed the board he owns a home in Minnesota and nearby is a Geronimo Energy solar farm. He added that he never noticed any controversy regarding the project and the homes in that area were very valuable.

Chris Gray, the Knox County Supervisor of Assessment, spoke in response to a handful of the concerns that were brought up during public comment, one of which was the perceived property value decline.

Citing a report done from Cohn and Reznick for the Grundy County Municipal Planning Commission, she says that property adjacent to a 234-acre solar farm in Grundy County were not negatively affected by the green energy project. Reading from the report, “The ending result was we have concluded that no negative impact has occurred to adjacent property that can be attributed to the proximity to the adjacent solar farm.”

Another issue she addressed was a change in the solar energy ordinance that would change the setback requirement for solar farms from 500 to 200-feet – decreasing the required distance between a solar farm and residences. She said that the change had nothing to do with Geronimo Energy, but would affect future solar energy proposals.

Ben Adamich, a Geronimo representative, was in attendance and gave comment, addressing more concerns. Adamich said that the application met the standards the county had created with their Solar Farm Ordinance. Saying the setbacks between the proposed farm and nearest residences are over 500 feet and will be screened by vegetation.

In the end, the committee voted to approve the conditional use permit for the construction of the solar farms 5-1, with board member David Erickson being the lone “nay” vote.

It now moves to the full board for vote on May 23rd at 6:00 p.m. at the Galesburg City Council Chambers.