Illinois agrivoltaic project successfully permitted, despite local challenge – pv magazine USA

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The 4.95 MW Nesler Road agrivoltaic/community solar project will be installed on 36 acres and will grow hay along with generating enough clean, renewable solar energy to power 1,100 Illinois homes each year.

April 8, 2024

Lightstar Renewables, a Boston-based community solar developer, announced the successful permitting of a 4.95 MW agrivoltaic community solar project in Illinois.

The Nesler Road project will be installed on 36 acres and is expected to generate enough clean, renewable solar energy to power 1,100 Illinois homes each year, while cultivating hay; providing necessary nutrients to grazing livestock during winter months and drought periods, according to Lightstar Renewables.

The project’s special use permit application was submitted to Kane County in October 2023 and was unanimously approved by the County Board on March 12th, 2024, after receiving approval by the county zoning board of appeals and county development committee.

“This project, now fully permitted, exemplifies the immense value in safeguarding family land from sprawling development. Keeping the land active in agriculture production, while ensuring energy freedom and resilience for the community, is a benchmark in American land stewardship,” expressed Cecelia Stephens, development manager at Lightstar, who spearheaded the permitting process. “Projects like this one highlight how rural communities can be catalysts for economic development while maintaining their agricultural heritage.”

Neighbors appeal

Lightstar Renewables told pv magazine USA that neighbors raised concerns about the impact the solar array may have on property values. A neighboring horse farm also was concerned about its viewshed and about sound, as they did not want their horses to be spooked by any potential noise from the solar site. Lightstar came back to the zoning board with a revised site plan that further distanced the solar array from the horse farm. In addition, they provided a property value study, a sound study, and a comprehensive landscaping plan that included vegetative screening and fencing along the parts of the array that border the horse farm. A property assessment expert, sound engineer and landscape architect were all present at the second zoning board meeting, and neighbors’ concerns were successfully alleviated.

The next step is for the project to be awarded capacity in the Illinois Adjustable Block The Illinois Shines program was expanded in 2021 and supports the development of on-site solar (distributed generation) as well as community solar projects. Program (also called Illinois Shines). After capacity is awarded, construction could begin as early as Q4 2024.

Because this will be an agrivoltaics installation with vegetation planted between the rows of solar modules, the developer will use a single axis tracker system that’s elevated 4 to 10 feet, depending on the tilt/tracking position. The array is designed to accommodate equipment that will be used to cultivate and harvest hay, which will be grown under the panels. Lightstar Renewables said that specific spacing and height considerations were made while engineering this project to ensure safe operation of farming equipment within the array.

The project is owned by Nesler Road Solar LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lightstar Renewables, LLC. Lightstar intends to own and operate this project for the lifetime of the project.

Lightstar Renewables is active in 15 states and currently has a 1 GW pipeline. In September the company announced it had been acquired by an affiliate of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation.

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