Jacksonville to host open house for proposed community solar garden – Jacksonville Journal-Courier

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A depiction of how developers say a community solar garden east of Jacksonville would be designed. The illustration by Summit Ridge Energy was part of a presentation to City Council in March about creating a solar farm. The proposal faces several hurdles before it could become reality.

A depiction of how developers say a community solar garden east of Jacksonville would be designed. The illustration by Summit Ridge Energy was part of a presentation to City Council in March about creating a solar farm. The proposal faces several hurdles before it could become reality.

Summit Ridge Energy/Provided

Developers of a community solar garden in east Jacksonville are planning an open house next week to address questions about the proposed project.

Summit Ridge Energy presented their plans for a 58.3-acre solar farm on East Morton Avenue between Prairie Knolls subdivision and the Reynolds Consumer Products plant to City Council in late March. The power would be generated and used locally.

Representatives from Arlington, Virginia-based Summit Ridge Energy will be available for public discussion about the project from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at VFW Post 4548, 903 E. Morton Ave.

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While the company has a lease for the property, whose western edge is next to Blacks Lane, and the blessing of Ameren Illinois, the proposal has a few hurdles to overcome before it becomes reality.

City Council has not taken any formal votes in connection with the project, but no member voiced opposition to the proposal when it was presented during the council’s March 25 workshop meeting.

City Attorney Dan Beard said for the project to move forward there would need to be rezoning in the area to allow solar panels. The property is zoned for residential and would need a designation for manufacturing.

Beard said the council would also need to address the setback requirements of the present solar ordinance.

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Currently, ordinances say solar energy systems must be no closer than 1,000 feet to a dwelling district. The ordinance, as written, effectively prohibits solar farms in the city and most extraterritorial areas of the city. Summit Ridge officials said they will ask the city to consider a 150-foot setback from the nearest point on the outside wall of a structure, so it can be sited east of the Prairie Knolls subdivision.

Any proposed changes would need to go to the Plan Commission first and then to City Council.

Summit Ridge has a tentative 20-year agreement with the landowners that call for four extensions of the lease in five-year increments.

While not revealing the cost of the project, estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy said companies usually spend $400,000 to $500,000 an acre, which means developing a 58.3-acre farm could cost between $23 million to $29 million to develop.

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During its presentation to council, Bridget Callahan, senior director of development for Summit Ridge Energy, said that with community solar, people don’t have to install panels. Businesses and residents can subscribe to a portion of a community solar garden.

“Subscriptions help the developer pay for the garden and in return, subscribers get a credit in proportion to their share of the electricity generated by the garden,” she said.

Callahan estimated $680,000-plus in tax revenue would be generated over the 35-year life cycle of project, or about $19,428 annually. There would be a lower cost of electricity for subscribers via bill credits, which usually amount to 10% to 20% of the total electric bill.

The project would include native pollinator-friendly plantings and vegetative screening, comprised mostly of Black Hills spruce trees, and a welcome to Jacksonville sign.

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An access road to the site would be built off Blacks Lane, but it would be close to Morton Avenue so as not to create heavy truck traffic on a narrow road, said Kyle Hawkinson, director of project management for Summit Ridge Energy.

It will take 18 months to complete, from planning to implementation, and after it’s finished there will be no permanent on-site personnel, Hawkinson said.

When the site is beyond its useful life in 35 years, it will be decommissioned, and it will be Summit Ridge’s responsibility to remove the panels and restore the land.

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RELATED: Proposal for community solar farm along East Morton presented

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