Solar Farm Gets Go-Ahead From City Council

A proposed 235-acre solar farm on two parcels at the intersection of Johnson Road and Route 20 was approved in principle by the Marengo City Council, during its June 25 session. The action included annexation agreements for 110- and 126-acre sites, each containing three parcels, along with a text amendment to the existing Estate Residential (ER) zoning designation allowing the solar farm and a forty-year term special use permit for its operation.

The project is being presented by Marengo Solar LLC, a consortium comprised of SunEast Development, Energy Renewal Partners, and Enel Green Energy. Cost estimates range from a $25-$30 million investment would place approximately 60,000 solar panels on either side of Johnson Road. The location under contract contains three parcels owned by Richard Johnson and Judith Feddema, and another three parcels owned by Nelligan Investments LLC.

The council’s full approval, with 4th Ward alderman Dennis Hammortree casting a dissenting vote, follows the Marengo Planning and Zoning Commission recommendation made during an Apr. 16 special meeting. After a public hearing on the proposals, the zoning text amendment to allow the commercial project in an (ER zoning district, and a special use permit contingent upon annexation were approved. It was then forwarded to the full council for disposition.

“Also in the annexation agreements is that they have a 36-month window to finalize the details on the facility, the operational end, and its agreement with Commonwealth Edison,” said Marengo city manager Josh Blakemore. “There are other contingencies as well, but the time period was set for their completion of all the necessary requirements.”

One primary concern that has been raised is the soil quality of the parcels, after it is decommissioned. The group has indicated that the life expectancy of the solar panels in the array is 40 years. The special use permitting also carries a forty-year term, coinciding with provisions of the zoning text amendment.

The annexation agreements also contain a clause stating that if the solar farm fails to transmit energy to the electrical distribution system within a period of twelve, or more, consecutive months, not pursuing repairs, or refutes the contention within thirty days, the site will be presumed abandoned.

The group must also finalize an agreement with ComEd, through its parent company, Chicago-based Excelon, Inc., for energy transmission and connection to the Marengo power substation.

A benefit for the county and the municipality is state legislation, passed by the General Assembly. House Bill 5284, which “Provides the equation for the fair cash value of commercial solar energy systems in counties with fewer than 3,000,000 inhabitants.” Its offshoot, Senate Bill 0486, allows the property tax code amendment that a commercial solar energy system should be calculated at $218,000 per megawatt generated. Both bills await Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature.

The Marengo ground installation is expected to produce up to 40 megawatts of energy, and could factor out to $330,000 in property taxes on an annual basis, relative to area’s the taxing rate.

“That could translate to $30-$40,000 per year for the city of Marengo, for the general fund and police pension for the property tax revenue line items,” said Blakemore. “The assessed value of $218,000 per megawatt is a similar assessment for wind power generation as well.”

 Solar farms considerations for Mc Henry County areas are being viewed by specialized provider companies. Another site is being proposed for a leased 16-acre section of a 29-acre larger parcel in Marengo Township, owned by Michael Grismer. The California-based firm of Borrego Solar Systems Inc. seeks county zoning approval for the site on Route 20, near Burma Road, and is planned to generate 2 megawatts

California-based Shabadoo Solar/Cypress Creek Renewables Development LLC, and the Wisconsin-based firm of West Grant Development, Inc. have gone through the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals process and now are awaiting a date for the county board to consider their project. They seek to place a solar panel array on 90 acres near the intersection of West Ringwood Road and South Solon Road.

The Marengo ground installation along Route 20, on either side of Johnson Road, is listed as unincorporated McHenry County, until the annexation agreements are effectuated to bring them into the municipality’s fold.</p>