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Residents opposed to solar farm in McHenry Township present case

Objectors presented details at zoning meeting Wednesday

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Steven Young, an environmental expert speaking for those who oppose the project, shares his knowledge during the meeting Wednesday.[]

Those opposed to a proposed McHenry Township community solar farm had a chance to present a case against the development at a fourth McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Wednesday afternoon.

California-based Shabadoo Solar, Cypress Creek Renewables Development LLC and West Grant Development want to install panels on about 35 acres of a 90-acre plot of farmland northeast of South Solon and West Ringwood roads.

The plan has raised the ire of nearby residents who have said they are against the complex because it could take up prime farmland, prevent residential development, devalue their property and contaminate groundwater.

Worries about a decommissioning plan, the use of the word “farm” in respect to the development and minute details, such as deer getting impaled on the proposed fence that would surround the property, also have surfaced.

The developers have refuted most claims to little apparent effect.

Fred Cappetta, a lawyer for residents who oppose the project, presented three witnesses who discussed environmental concerns, flooding on and near the property and McHenry County’s comprehensive plan.

The property is zoned as agriculture, and the county’s long-term comprehensive plan recommends the land as a site for future residential development.

Cappetta argued that the comprehensive plan must be adhered to.

“The comprehensive plan is not a suggestion,” he said. “It is the plan for corporate officials to be carried out.”

He said that residents have a reasonable right to expect zoning classes will conform with existing uses.

“It is important that uses are predictable,” he said. “If the owner of property has no assurance to the zoning in his area, the value of the property will be detrimentally affected.”

Support of renewable energy developments exist in the plan, but where those projects should go isn’t addressed, said Kim Kolner, a senior planner with the county’s Planning and Development Department.

Board members questioned whether witnesses are against solar energy altogether as they listened to a presentation by Steven Young – an environmental expert hired by Cappetta – about the dangers of fire on a solar farm, hazardous materials that could be present on the manufactured panels and resulting contamination.

“You are trying to scare us by saying this thing is going to blow up or catch fire,” said David Stone, vice chairman of the board. “But it depends on how much risk you are taking. If it’s one in a million, it’s not a big risk.”

Young couldn’t answer the question about the likelihood of a fire on the proposed site, and he wasn’t aware what type of panel Cypress Creek intends to install, which would affect risk factors.

The site and surrounding area are prone to flooding, which would be made worse with soil compaction from the development and water flowing off the panels in a more concentrated way, said Jon Green, a civil engineer working for the objectors.

“[Flooding] is an existing problem, and any future development directly upstream ... that will cause impaction of the soils ... will only make matters worse,” he said.

He said that there is a need for a detention pond that could stop flooding if a 100-year storm event occurred. Those storms cause about 10 inches of rain to fall in 24 hours and occur infrequently.

He said the proposed native plants for the site would help prevent regular flooding from minor rainstorms.

The zoning board will meet again at 1:30 p.m. May 23 at the McHenry County Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.