Solar array proposed at EIEC's headquarters in Paxton

PAXTON — Paxton City Council members heard Tuesday night about a proposed renewable-energy project at Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative’s headquarters that would involve the construction of a solar array capable of producing about 300,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Larry Steffen, vice president of sales for Eagle Point Solar, based in Dubuque, Iowa, told aldermen that the project is still in the design phase and that no final decisions have been made by the electric co-op to pursue it. Steffen said that if EIEC ends up deciding to proceed with it, his firm would likely be able to start building the solar array “within a month or so.”

A “plot plan” presented to council members shows the ground-mounted solar array being built immediately south of EIEC’s headquarters at 330 W. Ottawa Road.  The 235-kilowatt solar array’s 660 360-watt modules and three inverters would be  surrounded on its other three sides by cropland. The solar array would be 70 feet wide and 360 feet long.

Steffen said the solar array would be nowhere near any residences and that the “highest point” on a “standard-configuration ground array” is about 10 feet with its solar panels leaning at about a 30-degree angle.

“It’s pretty much out of sight,” Steffen noted.

Some city council members expressed concern about the possibility of a water main being present under the ground where the solar array would be built. Steffen, however, said performing a “utility locate” is “something that we will obviously do if the project gets legs underneath it,” adding that it is possible the project could be relocated if necessary.

“We’re taking a 10-inch, 14-foot pier and driving it 9 feet into the ground,” Steffen said, “so we don’t want to hit anything.”

As for any concerns about light refraction off of the panels or noise, Steffen noted that the panels would face south toward the cropland and that the noise the inverters can create is similar to a low-pitch hum at a distance of just 3 feet.

In response to a question about the solar array’s structural stability, Steffen said its panels would be able to withstand a golf-ball-sized piece of hail hitting them at 260 mph. Steffen said there were “no issues” with solar arrays his firm had installed in two other Illinois communities when tornadoes struck those areas.

Steffen said the solar array’s equipment would have a 25-year warranty to produce power and about a 45-year life expectancy. Decommissioning of the solar array, Steffen added, would be the responsibility of the property owner.

Steffen said his company “builds nothing but solar arrays.” The firm — with three offices in Illinois, three in Iowa and one in Wisconsin — has built 700 solar arrays since its founding, he added.

With no regulations in place for solar-energy projects, the city’s building administrator, Matt Rock, asked City Attorney Marc Miller for guidance on whether he could go ahead and grant an application for this project or others under the city’s existing building codes applying to permanent structures such as accessory buildings, including setback and height limitations.

Miller basically left it up to Rock and said he would be able to assist in guiding any decision Rock would need to make.

Rock said after the meeting that he would consult Mayor Bill Ingold and Miller on how to proceed if any applications are received for the construction of solar-energy projects.

With there being a growing interest in solar-energy projects throughout Illinois, Miller suggested the council strongly consider creating an ordinance regulating such projects. There are a number of ways in which Paxton could decide to regulate solar arrays, as well as larger projects like solar gardens of up to 2 megawatts and solar farms of 2 to 20 megawatts, Miller said.

Council members made plans to further discuss the issue in the near future.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for the city to kind of look forward a little bit and see how you want to structure these,” Miller said. “It’s something that a forward-thinking community needs to kind of look at and be on top of, because this stuff is here.”

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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