BLOOMINGTON — McLean County's busy solar energy market just keeps getting busier.
As the McLean County Board approved its fifth, sixth and seventh applications for local solar farms Tuesday, officials are gearing up to consider two more — and that doesn't include a pair of farms previously discussed but not yet approved.
Projects on the books include:
• Two 2-megawatt farms from Boston developer Nexamp off East County Road 100 North, south of Heyworth, to be discussed Sept. 4 by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The developer filed paperwork for those farms last week.
• Five farms from Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, Calif., each 2 megawatts and $3.9 million, in Arrowsmith, Bloomington, Downs and Towanda. All five have been approved by the county board, including the Towanda farm on Tuesday, but construction hasn't been started.
• Heyworth Solar, a 4-megawatt farm from Minneapolis-based Geronimo Energy approved by the board Tuesday.
• Amp Solar Development's 4-megawatt farm near Downs was approved Tuesday. The Toronto company has also proposed two farms in near Bloomington that have not been approved.
Phil Dick, the county's building and zoning director, said previously it's unlikely all of those farms will be built. Companies are vying for local government approval before submitting their projects to the state, which is expected to use a more competitive process to choose which are built.
All three farms before the board Tuesday passed on 17-2 votes with Don Cavallini and Catherine Metsker voting no.
Members have said they're concerned about the amount of productive farmland being taken out of circulation for up to 40 years in favor of solar farms. The McLean County Farm Bureau and other members have said they don't want to limit landowners' ability to choose how to use their property without a very good reason.
"Yes, it may come back (to crop production). We don't know that for sure," said Metsker. "We have a comprehensive plan, and we are absolutely ignoring it. I would suggest we (reconsider) it if we're going to continue."
Members also said they're concerned about the quality of the land after it's turned back into farm ground, though member Jim Soeldner said the delay might improve the soil quality. Developers are required to submit a decommissioning plan and keep reserve funds to address such issues.
David Loomis, director of Illinois State University's Center for Renewable Energy, told The Pantagraph in January more solar farms are coming thanks to the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, which added wind and solar development incentives and called for 25 percent of Illinois power to be renewable by 2025.
The county also has many smaller solar generation facilities, including at homes, businesses and schools. Local officials are working to expand that through Solar Bloomington-Normal, a group-buy program for residential and business solar-generation systems that's currently in its second round.