Construction to begin on solar farm this summer
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By Carmen Ensinger
A solar farm, first proposed in 2017, will begin construction this summer and members of the company addressed the Greene County Board at their Wednesday meeting about the project.
The Hickory Solar Park is being built by EDP Renewables, whose corporate headquarters are in Houston, Texas. The farm will encompass 700 acres, 150 acres of which are in Greene County with the rest being in Jersey County.
It will be able to produce 110 megawatts of power and will tie into the new Ameren substation being built near the fairgrounds northwest of Jerseyville.
Jesse T. Eick, Development Project Manager, addressed the board about the project.
“The increase in property values and taxes is what makes these projects attractive to counties,” Eick said. “EDP self-funds the construction of these projects. We ask for no increase in county taxes to fund the projects and we ask for no increase in rates from Ameren to help fund them either. This is all our project. We sign power purchase agreements with Ameren and another utility company.”
EDP has signed lease agreements with all of the land owners, which prompted board members to ask why they chose to lease and not buy the land, especially since solar panels have a 30-year life expectancy.
“The reason we lease is because that is the landowner preference – they want to keep the land in the family,” Eick said. “The lifecycle of these projects is about 30 years and then we have the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement Permit that we get from the state, which we have in place for this project which has very strict decommissioning and deconstruction requirements to basically take all of the components out so there is nothing left.”
During the operation of the solar panels, the landowner will get an annual payment, with a rate increase each year to take into account inflation.
“At the end of the operation lifecycle, when we remove all of our infrastructure, then the landowner can continue to farm their land,” Eick said. “Looking at the impact these projects have on the farmland, it gives it a break. During this period, there is no discing, no fertilizing, no seeding. This is a 30-year breather for the land, so the landowner sees this as an investment for the land.”
Eick said that when construction begins, it will create between 300 to 400 construction jobs and once completed it will have an operations and maintenance crew of two that are permanently on site.
“The project creates no noise and creates no glare,” Eick said. “We have certain setback requirements in Jersey that we have to live by just to keep our contract that we are following here in Greene as well so you don’t have to worry about us constructing right next to your roads.”
Eick said they currently have a project being built near Waverly that is roughly five times larger.
“It is a 500-megawatt project and covers approximately 3,500 acres,” he said. “So if you want to see what will be taking place, take a drive over there. They are starting to lay the culverts and started the drainage mitigation so you will get some idea what will be taking place.”
Eick said the one question he gets all the time from people is if they can plug their homes into it. The answer is no. This is a very high voltage project.
“The amount of wattage that we are generating from this project is enough to power three stadiums during the playoffs so it is very high voltage,” he said. “Ameren’s new expanded substation is for our project to tie into so that we can power the high voltage grid. They have restrung a line out of that substation going northeast so all of that power is going to be on the high voltage grid so it’s not going to be connected to anyone’s homes.”
EDP Renewables operational projects are mainly wind farms. Of their 67 projects, only 9 of them are solar parks. In fact, the Greene County solar park will be only the second solar park in Illinois once the park near Waverly comes online.
They currently have seven wind farms active within the state in the counties of McLean, Douglas, Tazewell, Logan, LaSalle and Grundy counties. There are actually five wind farms, but two of them have two phases resulting in seven actual wind farms.
These wind farms produce a total of 1201 megawatts of power, generating enough electricity to power 412,000 homes.
They represent a $2.3 billion investment with $75.8 million paid out to landowners, $76.9 million paid to local governments and $1.5 billion spent within Illinois. During construction of these projects, 1,188 construction jobs were created and 77 permanent jobs were created.
Hickory Solar Park will have a capital investment of $130 million with $37 million being paid to landowners and $15 million being paid to local governments. The power they create would be equivalent to the average consumption of more than 27,800 homes.