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Community Solar: Case Studies

Solar Energy Development Informational Report to the Kankakee County Board   

       D. Skimerhorn and E. Blair (2017)

 “Since the [Future Energy Jobs] Act was passed, Kankakee County’s planning staff has seen a flurry of activity from solar developers looking for sites in the county. As a result of this activity, planning staff developed a solar farm ordinance which was adopted by the County Board in May of 2017 as an amendment to its Zoning Ordinance. On a side note, this ordinance was one of the first to be developed in the State of Illinois and is being used as a model ordinance by many counties and municipalities.”

Staff Report for the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals

     Application for Amendment of the Unified Development Ordinance for Conditional Use and Variation (2018)

   Finding that the proposed 2-megawatt solar system on 17 acres of farmland property would meet the approval standards for conditional use permit and the approval standards for variation in the McHenry County Code.  The subject property is surrounded by areas zoned for A-1 Agriculture as well as areas zoned for E-1 Estate with single-family residential use.  The Staff Assessment found no anticipated impact to the groundwater, and no noise, lighting, or any other nuisances anticipated from this use.

Staff Report for a Special Use: McLean County Department of Building and Zoning

     Case Number SU-18-05 (2018)

   Finding that the proposed 2-megawatt solar power generating facility on 33 acres of agricultural land would meet all of the seven standards for special use permits in the McLean County Code.

Interstate Renewable Energy Council, "Community-Shared Solar: Diverse Approaches for a Common Goal"

Summarizes programs at:

  • Tucson Electric Power: Bright Tucson Community Solar - 4.13 MW, 777 customers
  • Colorado Springs Utilities: Community Solar Gardens - 2 MW, 289 participants
  • Florida Keys Electric Cooperative: Simple Solar - 117 kW; 10 members


Insights from the Colorado Energy Office Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Project

Colorado Energy Office, Dec. 2017

This report describes and evaluates eight Colorado Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Projects.

"[The Colorado Energy Office (CEO)] recognized the potential for community solar to reduce low-income energy burden and initiated the Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Project (Demonstration Project). CEO awarded GRID Alternatives -- a non-profit focused on providing solar power to low-income families -- a $1.2 million grant to implement the development of eight demonstration models throughout Colorado with non-regulated utilities. The Demonstration Project was designed to help reduce energy burden for over 300 low-income households and better understand how utility and project structures affect the ability to make low-income community solar beneficial for both utilities and low-income subscribers. CEO’s Demonstration Project shows the feasibility of building a low-income community solar model that can be repeated throughout the United States, reducing the energy burden for all low-income households....

"Each project was designed differently to help identify optimal utility project structures and to identify opportunities for implementation in investor-owned utility territories. While each project provided a distinct set of lessons learned and policy recommendations, one item remained consistent -- each subscriber greatly benefited from the program and saved 15 to 50 percent on his or her electricity bills. These savings equated to, on average, $382 per subscriber. It is expected that the project will reduce electricity costs for the 380 subscribers by over $145,160 in the first year and more than $3 million over the lifetime of the project."


EnergySage "Community Solar Marketplace"

This platform links to open community solar projects and hopes to connect homeowners with solar installers.

Selling Out 1.55 MW of Community Solar in 7 Weeks: Inside the City of Fremont, Nebraska's Community Solar Program

Smart Electric Power Alliance, Dec. 2017

"Overwhelmingly, the more than 500 people who attended the meetings wanted 'community' to be central to the project. They wanted the electricity from the project to be sold only to those in the Fremont community. They also wanted it built by local developers, financed by local money and under community control. Additionally, some folks were looking to take advantage of the 30-percent federal investment tax credit for solar, while others were looking to fix their energy costs without a big upfront investment."


Financing Community-Based Solar Projects: Case Studies from the Field” (May 2018)

 Six case studies, with focus on strategies for funding community solar projects

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

144 electric utility cooperatives in 30 states offer community solar programs.

1. Boone County 2. Champaign County

- March 27, 2018: Zoning Board of Appeals considered documents in connection with proposed solar ordinance and special-use permits, including study on property value appraisals; study on health and safety impacts of solar PVs; decommissioning estimate; information from Farm Bureau; and solar ordinances from McHenry, Iroquois, Kankakee, and DeKalb Counties

- May 16, 2018: County Board approved a special-use permit for developer to build a 12-acre, $4 million solar farm in unincorporated Manchester Township

- May 16, 2018: County Board approved a lease to a developer to build a solar farm on a 34-acre retired landfill

- June 20, 2018: in revising draft solar farm rules, County Board voted to relax to 100 feet the proposed 250 feet setbacks from neighboring property lines; sent changed draft rules to the Zoning Board of Appeals; if draft rules are adopted, developers would still submit applications for special-use permits

- January 4, 2018: County Board Environment and Land Use Committee considered Proposed Champaign County Solar Farm Text Amendment, based on Kankakee County Solar Farm Ordinance and recommendations from the Illinois Solar Energy Association

- July 5, 2018: County Board Environment and Land Use Committee approved for 30-day review period a proposal to amend zoning ordinances for solar farms; no solar farm would be allowed within any contiguous urban growth area or within a half-mile of any zoned municipality, except as may be necessary to connect to an existing electrical substation; protections to existing drainage district tiles; if decommissioned, land must be reclaimed for agricultural use; seven solar farm applications pending

- On August 23, 2018, the Champaign County Board approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance to allow solar farms on certain agricultural properties.  Seven applications to build solar farms were previously submitted to the county and will require special use permits.

- Among other provisions, the solar zoning ordinance  states that:

  • The applicant shall file a decommissioning and site reclamation plan with an irrevocable letter of credit in the amount of 150 percent of an independent engineer’s cost estimate to complete the work.
  • Subject to exceptions, the solar farm must be located at least 1.5 miles from an incorporated municipality that has a zoning ordinance.
  • The applicant shall apply for consultation with the Endangered Species Program and the State Historic Preservation Officer of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
  • The solar farm “shall be located, designed, constructed, and operated so as to avoid and if necessary mitigate the impacts to wildlife to a sustainable level of mortality”.
  • Cabling must protect agricultural drainage tile, with minimum depth of 5 feet below grade.
  • Topsoil must be retained and a vegetative ground cover must be established in the solar farm.

- On December 10, 2018, Urbana's City Council voted in favor of "A Resolution Approving an Option to Lease and a Ground Lease of Urbana Landfill Complex" covering 41 acres in a closed landfill.

3. Cook County 4. Danville

City of Chicago, et al. – 2017

Cook County joined the Solar Market Pathways project and received $1.2 million in federal funding to help bring community shared solar power to the area. The goal is to develop five to seven community solar demonstration sites within the county. The grant provides design, solar assessment and technical, and financial feasibility analysis.  On financial returns: 

Our fifteen case studies show that community solar projects can be financially viable in many typical settings within Cook County: with commercial, nonprofit, or government host sites, from 2 megawatt (the maximum allowed by law) down to as small as 100 kilowatt, and on settings as varied as open land, schools, churches, and even landfills.

Cook County's Community Solar website provides various documents of analysis reports, case tools, value proportions, and work plans. The analyses will address the barriers, solutions, and next steps for community solar in Cook County.

See also: Elevate Energy, "Community Solar Case Study Overview" (2017)

Solar for Cook County

- July 31, 2018: Danville Area Planning and Zoning Commission is considering a solar ordinance with a 100 feet setback from any residential district (with screening by landscape or fences) and a provision on recycling or disposing of solar panels if no longer used

5.  DeKalb County 6.  Elizabeth - South View Community Solar Farm

Passed the Solar Energy System Ordinance on March 21, 2018.  "DeKalb County Board approves solar power ordinance." Among other provisions, the ordinance provides that:

  • Solar Gardens (no more than 20 acres) are allowed in all zoning districts.  They require a Special Use Permit, except with the consent of all property owners adjoining the lot on with the Solar Garden is to be located.
  • Solar Farms must be set back at least 100 feet from a property line.
  • No fencing is required.
  • Reflection angles must not project glare onto adjacent properties.
  • Soils must be planted to and maintained in perennial vegetation to prevent erosion and manage run off.
  • Applicant, Owner, or Operator shall maintain a current general liability policy covering bodily injury and property damage with limits of at least $3 million per occurrence and $5 million in the aggregate. Such insurance may be provided pursuant to a plan of self- insurance, by a party with a net worth of $20 million or more. The County shall be named as an individual insured on the policy to the extent the county is entitled to indemnification. 
  • Decommissioning plan required when applying for all Solar Farms and Solar Gardens.  After operation ceases, solar panels must be decommissioned within 90 days and decommissioning must be complete within 6 months.  The posting of a bond to ensure proper decommissioning may be required prior to the issuance of a building permit.

This ordinance ends a moratorium on developing solar farms in the county that was passed on March 15, 2017.

Organized by electric cooperative Jo-Carroll Energy

Completed in January 2015  

Constructed on three-quarters of an acre; array of 460 solar panels with a combined capacity of 126.5 kW (output of about 170,000 kWh per year)

Each panel has a capacity of 275 watts, and estimated average annual production of 375 kWh per year

Subscription price is $890 per panel up front (no financing plan provided); estimated annual return is $48-50 per panel; subscriber may at any time resell its capacity to the cooperative

Solar Farm FAQ

Subscription Agreement

7.  Fondulac Township 8. Galesburg

Lease agreement approved on November 16, 2017 for 7,000 solar panels on 18 acres

Annual lease rate of $800 per acre with a 2 percent annual escalation for 25 years; $461,000 in revenue to the township

Plan for operation in 2019, with interconnection to the Ameren grid

City Council approved a non-binding letter of intent with a community solar developer on February 26, 2018

   Solar developer would lease land at three municipal properties  

  •   two community solar gardens in a park, at 17.5 acres each
  •  one community solar garden at the municipal airport, at 17.5 acres
  •   two "behind the meter" solar systems at the water treatment plant, totaling 30.5 acres

About 40 percent of the energy produced would be for the city and its public buildings (city would save $10 million in energy costs over 25 years; cost of electricity would drop by 35-40 percent for city owned buildings, and by 40-50 percent at the water treatment plant

At least 50 percent of the energy would be available for residents to purchase

Electricity production would start in April or May 2019   City signs letter of intent with solar company 

Presentation on February 26, 2018 provides many details on the planned installations, including provisions of the Letter of Intent (developer has 120 day exclusive right to negotiate Power Purchase Agreement and Lease Agreement), estimated construction time (3-5 months), and security (fenced with low light security cameras) -- Solar Energy Proposal, City of Galesburg.

9. Grundy 10. Henry County

In April 2018, the Grundy County Board voted to place petitions for four potential solar projects on file, including for community solar.  See Solari, K., "County board places solar farm petitions on file" (April 20, 2018) 

Grundy County amended its land use ordinances in 2012 to provide for solar farms.  See Sec. 8-2-5-30: Solar Farms.

The Henry County Board approved 21 of 27 applications for special use permits for solar projects from August through December 2018, including eight proposed community solar projects in December.  Each community solar projects would be 2 MW, and ranged from 14 to 29 acres. Actions in October 2018 approved a 2 MW project on 20 acres of land rated highly productive, as well as a 70 MW project on 650 acres zoned for manufacturing and a 1 MW project on 10 acres zoned for manufacturing. 

See Ordinance

11. Iroquois County 12. Kankakee County

- August 8, 2017: County Board approved the Solar Energy Ordinance

- June 12, 2018: County Board put a portion of the County Farm out for bid for a solar farm

On April 10, 2018, Kankakee County Board approved 10 permits for solar "garden" projects of 13 to 20 acres each.  One contractor providing 9 of these projects estimated that they would involve a $36 million investment, provide up to 225 construction jobs; each project will take 12 to 16 weeks to construct.  See Kankakee Daily Journal, "First group of solar farms approved" (April 11, 2018)

In May 2017, Kankakee County adopted the Solar Farm amendment to the County's Zoning Ordinance.  See Skimerhorn, D. and Blair, E., "Solar Energy Development Informational Report to the Kankakee County Board"  The ordinance requires front setbacks of 100 feet, and 50 foot setbacks from all other property lines (except for a 100 foot setback from properties which contain an existing residence or are zoned for residential use).  The solar farm must be enclosed by fencing of at least 8 feet in height.  Each application for a solar farm requires a decommission plan and decommissioning security financing.  See Kankakee County Zoning Ordinance, Agriculture District, solar Farm (Sec. 121-99(34)

13.  Knox County 14. LaSalle County

Solar Energy System Ordinance approved August 23, 2017, with provisions for solar gardens (5 acres or less) and solar farms (over 5 acres)

Solar farms require perimeter fences and panels must be at least 500 feet from a residence

Decommissioning plan required when applying for a use permit, bond must be posted, and decommissioning must be completed within 6 months after operations cease


Plans were announced on February 8, 2018 to develop a project with about 7,000 solar panels on private farmland.  The landowners sent a request for approval of the project to the Knox County Zoning Board of Appeals.  However, neighbors objected at a community open house on February 19, 2018, and the landowners rescinded the request for the project.

On September 26, 2018, the County Board granted conditional use permits for four community solar projects, each of 2 MW on 15 to 20 acres.  Each project would generate about $20,000 annually in property taxes.  The estimated cost of decommissioning was $25,000 per MW.

In February 2018, the LaSalle County Board approved petitions for special use permits for two solar farms on privately owned farmland. 

The conditions for the special use permits include: providing a cost estimate of decommissioning and a sufficient surety bond; submitting a report on existing subsurface agricultural drain tiles and repairing all field tiles damaged in constructing the solar farm; maintaining the site, including annually submitting a report to the Environmental Services and Land Use Department an equipment maintenance and controlling noxious weeds and drainage; providing area residents with a phone number to call with project related questions and/or issues, and promptly responding to and resolving issues; and contacting the applicable township road commissioner regarding site access plans, road use, and need to secure an entrance permit.
15. Lee County 16. Madison County

- December 19, 2017: Adopted Solar Farm Ordinance with setbacks of 50 feet in an agricultural district and 300 feet from a residence, and liability insurance naming the County as an additional insured (limits at least $2 million per occurrence and $5 million in aggregate)

- May 4, 2018: Zoning Board approved a 2 MW solar farm on about 10 acres in Marion Township

On January 3, 2019, the Madison County Government Planning and Development Committee approved with conditions a special use permit for a 2 MW solar project on 17 acres zoned Agriculture District in Worden.  The Staff recommended approval, noting: “The impacts of the proposed special use permit should be minimal considering the density of development within the immediate area, and the use will not conflict with surrounding agricultural and commercial land uses. The proposal will provide Madison County residents the opportunity to purchase an affordable source of solar energy without installing individual panels on their property, which is not an option for many property owners.”  However, the Committee denied petitions for special use permits for 2 MW solar projects in Hamel (with one member noting the close proximity to the village and homes) and St. Jacob (with the mayor stating that community solar projects do not fit in the village’s Comprehensive Plan).

17. Marshall County 18.  McHenry County

County Board zoning approval on March 8, 2018, for two community solar projects on "dry corners" of non-irrigated farmland.

On 22 acres of one farm, a 2 megawatt project.  On a second farm, a 1.6 megawatt project on 12 acres and a separate 1 megawatt project on 8 acres. 

Construction scheduled for 2019.

County approved solar energy ordinance on April 13, 2017.  See especially Section 4.24 of the Zoning Ordinance, including provisions for a decommissioning plan and financial assurance of adequately performing decommissioning.

July 19, 2018: Zoning Board of Appeals approved special use permits for solar farms in Lacon and Sparland areas, and expansion of a permitted site outside Henry; developer of site near airport will commission a glare study

June 15, 2018: at least ten solar farm proposals submitted for approval, including a plan for a 2 MW project leasing 16 acres of farmland for a 20-year term with options to renew and paying about $1,300 per acre annually.  Staff report for June 21, 2018 hearing on one proposed project:

STAFF ASSESSMENT The 2030 Comprehensive Plan and the 2030 and Beyond update to the plan both support the development of solar farms. After construction, there is very little to no traffic generated by the use. There is no noise, lighting, or any other nuisances anticipated from this use. The proposed use is compatible with adjacent agricultural uses. While not required, screening the facility would limit any potential visual impacts to the adjoining residences to the north and east. The property in question does not contain any FEMA floodplains, floods of record…. The petitioner has indicated that there will not be any grading of the site and new impervious surfaces will be at a minimum. It is recommended that the woodland acres be excluded from the conditional use area to ensure that this remnant oak woodland is protected. All construction will be required to meet all applicable codes and ordinance for fire protection, commercial building and electrical construction, and stormwater management. Staff recommends adding conditions regarding low-growth native vegetation and noxious weed control to benefit natural pollinators and provide for a more aesthetically pleasing site. Staff also recommends adding conditions regarding decommissioning and bonds to ensure the land can be returned to agricultural operations.

19.  McLean County 20. Mercer County

County board approved three projects in February 2018.   Each solar project will have capacity of 2 megawatts, be located on about 20 acres, and require a total investment of $3.9 million.

Presentation on February 6, 2018 

McLean County Department of Building and Zoning Staff Reports for a Special Use.

On June 16, 2015, the county adopted an ordinance with standards for solar power generating facilities, including setbacks, lighting, erosion control and stormwater management plans, plantings for soil stabilization, equipment removal and site restoration, and access points.  McLean County Code Section 350-43.OO (3) (Use Standards for a solar power generating facility)

Mercer County Zoning Ordinance, Solar Energy Facilities (March 2017) set back of at least 100 feet from a residence in a non-residential area, and at least 50 feet in a residential area; solar energy facility must be fenced completely; removal within 8 months of notice of abandonment or termination of operations; elements of decommissioning plan, including financial assurance equal to the decommissioning cost 

21. Ogle County

 22.  Peoria County

- March 20, 2018: County Board approved a solar farm on 360 acres south of Forreston

- April 2018: County Board voted against amending its zoning code to permit solar farms as a special use within the Mt. Morris village limits, denying a request for a solar project on 23 acres that are farmed in an area zoned industrial

- June 19, 2018: County Board approved special-use permits for solar farms on 66 acres near Mt. Morris (zoned industrial) and on 118 acres near Davis Junction (zoned agricultural)

Lease agreement approved on December 14, 2017 for 2 mW array on 23 acres

County would receive $1,000 a year per acre, with a 2 percent annual escalation; 25 years with a five-year renewal option.

Solar Energy Code adopted in East Peoria on January 16, 2018.    Community solar projects are allowed by special use in all zoning districts, subject to requirements on principal structure setback, height and coverage limitations.

23.  Piatt County 24.  Rock Island County

In November 2018, the Piatt County board voted down applications for two permits for solar farms.  One proposed project for 2 MW on 37 acres would have been near ten homes.  The other project would have been for 4 MW on 47 acres; residents raised issues including drainage and saving farmland. 

The developer seeking the 4 MW project re-applied for a permit in December 2018, proposing a location further from a residence and with about 3,500 to 4,000 feet of upgraded and new drainage tile that would help neighboring farms.

In January 2019, the Piatt County board approved special use permits for three solar projects – 3.2 MW on 30 acres, 4 MW on 47 acres, and 4 MW on 37 acres.

July 27, 2018: County Zoning Board of Appeals approved special-use permit for 30 acre solar project on farmland
25.  Saint Clair County 26.  Sangamon County

July 27, 2018: Zoning Board gave preliminary approval for four solar projects on farms, with other proposals pending

On September 11, 2018, the Sangamon County Board approved amendments to a zoning ordinance in connection with two proposed solar farm energy systems near Rochester and Pleasant Plains.

27.  Stephenson County 28.  Whiteside County

On August 10, 2017, the Stephenson County Board approved the county’s first solar farm.  On March 22, 2018, the County Board voted on eight special use requests for 2 MW solar projects and approved seven of them.  As of November 7, 2018, the Stephenson County Board had approved 38 solar projects.

See Ordinance

On June 19, 2018, the county board approved three proposed solar farms.  Each would be 2 MW, and the sites would be 20, 25 and 30 acres. 

- May 16, 2018: approved lease on capped portion of closed landfill; up to 10 MW; 25-year term with two possible five-year extensions, and a lease rate of $10,000 per MW (about 8 acres) with a 2% annual increase

- June 8, 2017: published Solar Farm Ordinance; allows solar gardens (up to 5 acres) in unincorporated areas, and solar farms by special-use permits in agricultural districts, airport safety zones, and at the landfill; minimum setbacks of 50 feet on all property lines, and 500 feet from a residence

- June 14, 2018: petitions for three 2 MW solar farms

- Website provides special use instructions, application form, and petition form for solar farms; states solar farm related fees ($750 per hearing night, $500 per MW (not to exceed $5,000) for permit; and $75 plus cost to Soil and Water Conservation for land evaluation and site assessment)

29.  Woodford County  

A developer seeking a permit to construct a 2 MW solar farm in Eureka received a favorable recommendation from the Woodford County Zoning Board twice.  However, some residents asserted that solar project would not be aesthetically pleasing and would reduce property values; the mayor stated that the project would be in the fastest growing neighborhood of Eureka.  The Woodford County Board rejected the application twice

The developer filed a lawsuit claiming that its applications complied with all county requirements.  On January 17, 2019, the county circuit court ruled in favor of the developer’s request for a special zoning exception to construct the solar project on 25 acres.