CAMBRIDGE — Three special use permits for solar farms moved a bit closer to reality Thursday night.
The Henry County Board hotly debated the pros and cons of solar farms and ended up saying “no” to five of eight requests.
Chief arguments were a limited supply of high-quality farmland versus the rights of property owners to do what they will with their land.
The request for a large, 650-acre, 70-megawatt solar farm east of Kewanee on Kentville Road was approved 10-4 with one abstention. The land is zoned manufacturing. First-year tax revenue, in the event a solar farm is built, would be $385,000 with lifetime taxes of $9.2 million.
Voting “no” were Bill Preston, Dwayne Anderson, Kelli Parsons and Kathy Nelson. Kippy Breeden abstained. Absent were Ted Sturtevant, Loren Rathjen, Jake Waller, Erik Brown and Jan May.
Approved in a closer 8-7 vote was a 20-acre, two-megawatt request for a solar farm on Illinois 82 just north of Nekoma. The land is rated highly productive.
A one-megawatt,m 10-acre solar request southeast of the Kewanee airport was approved 15-0. The land is also zoned manufacturing.
The three requests will be entered in a state lottery system for state approval.
“Where do we draw the line? How many of these opportunities are we going to give out?” asked county board chairman Roger Gradert.
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During the discussion, there wasn’t even agreement on whether or not a solar farm takes land out of agricultural production temporarily or permanently.
Board member Daniel Ames said the land could come back into production one day if prices were better. In the meantime, he said, adding solar was an opportunity for farmers to diversify.
Board member Kathy Nelson said if an apple represented Earth, then just very little of the peeling represented good farmland. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said.
She talked about rooftop solar. “What’s the problem with using the space above us rather than the ground beneath us?” she said.
Board member Dwayne Anderson was outspoken in opposition to the solar permits. He said the Farm Bureau and the soil and Water Conservation District have both made their opposition known. “We as Republicans, we’re voting like Democrats. We’re just supporting the propaganda we’ve heard.”
In other business, Erin Knackstedt was hired as the new county administrator. Knackstedt, the current Aledo city administrator, will begin her duties Oct. 19.
Sheriff Kerry Loncka recognized a deputy for a recent rescue. Deputy Calib Ingle was working on a short-handed day Sept. 27 and an inmate who was denied bond was distraught. The deputy checked on the inmate and found a blanket over the window in the cell door. He ran inside the cell and found the inmate had attempted to hang himself, so he got him untied and saved his life.
The deputy told the board that several days later, the inmate thanked him for his actions and said he “just wasn’t thinking straight that day.”
The board voted nearly unanimously to disband the communications committee that oversees the IT department and hears about legislative concerns. Its responsibilities will be split between the executive and administrative committees.
County clerk Barb Link described a Property Fraud alert program that notifies people when their name comes up in real estate documents. She said a recurring scam in Ohio people are creating warranty deeds by forging signatures of property owners and deeding property over to themselves. For information or to sign up, see the county clerk’s page on the Henry county website.
The board also approved a new three-year contract with the union representing highway department workers. The increase will be two percent.