BLOOMINGTON — Plans for McLean County's first three solar farms remain on track, but the developer will need to make a few changes to meet county conditions.

The county's Zoning Board of Appeals signed off Wednesday on special-use permits for three farms to be built by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Cypress Creek Renewables with conditions. The ZBA wants the developer to set aside money for decommissioning, to pledge to repair damaged drainage tiles on nearby properties, to consider pollinating plants for ground cover and to provide contact information for resident complaints.

The applications now go to the McLean County Board, which meets next at 9 a.m. Feb. 20.

ZBA members said they're pleased the farms will provide economic activity and renewable energy to McLean County, but they remain concerned about pulling prime farmland out of use for an estimated 40 years.

"These would be placed well on parking lots or landfills ... that wouldn't take up productive land, but the landowners don't seem to be concerned," said board member Brian Bangert. "There's plenty of benefits to a project like this."

Scott Novack, a senior developer with Cypress Creek, said large, flat parcels like those are necessary for solar farms, which cover much more ground than a typical parking lot.

"A 20-acre farm sounds like a lot. Holistically, though ... we're blessed with a lot of great farmland here in this state," he said. "On a relative basis, it's a small amount."

Each farm is expected to produce 2 megawatts, or enough power for about 321 homes, and an additional $27,600 in local, annual spending going forward.

Mike Matejka, government affairs director for Great Plains Laborers District Council, encouraged the company Wednesday to use local labor for the project. Officials said they plan to do so.

The ZBA will meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss a special-use permit  application for Bright Stalk Wind Farm. Houston-based EDP Renewables North America plans to build a 200-megawatt farm near Chenoa.

The board meets in room 400 at the downtown Government Center, 115 E. Washington St., Bloomington.

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Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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