'We're fighting to save our home'

Curt Harrison looks out over the field just to the north of his home that would be part of the proposed solar farm in northern Madison County.

The controversial proposal for a solar farm in northern Madison County crossed another hurdle recently when the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals voted to approve specifications for setbacks.

But more obstacles await for Chicago-based Invenergy, the company proposing the $110 million, 850-acre, 120-megawatt Lone Oak Solar Farm.

The specs approved by the board Tuesday are something of a compromise between what the company originally proposed and what some property owners want.

The BZA will require a 500-foot setback from homes of non-participating landowners and 200 feet from their property lines. Invenergy in some cases, apparently, would seek financial agreements with landowners to reduce the setbacks by half.

Specifically, non-participants are concerned about the view from their homes, the resale value of their properties and the use of prime farmland for solar panels instead of crops.

Other property owners who've already signed deals with Invenergy say the money will help them continue to farm while also improving their quality of life.

Also, proponents of the project point to the green energy it would produce, enough to supply electricity to about 14,400 homes, according to a formula from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

And then there's the $26 million in new property tax revenue Madison County would receive, according to Invenergy.

The company estimates it will make payments of $34 million to landowners leasing property for the solar farm, which would, prospectively, be completed in 2023 and would operate through about 2058.

In addition to the setbacks established, the BZA would require a $5.6 million decommissioning bond from Invenergy to cover costs should the solar farm fail. Invenergy originally had called for a $1.7 million bond, about one-third of the BZA's landing figure.

Invenergy officials responded to the BZA's vote with a clear indication that they intend to move ahead with the solar farm.

“We are reviewing the conditions of approval," company officials said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to developing the project.”

Some opponents of the farm remain entrenched. To them, this is a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue. But money from Invenergy to reduce setbacks could soften their position.

As this is shaping up, it appears to be a good deal for Madison County to expand the tax base and contribute to the production of green energy. But the rights and opinions of surrounding property owners shouldn't be trampled as the project moves ahead.