ROCKFORD, Ill. -  More than 400 northern Illinois residents have signed a petition opposing special-use permits that would allow the development of four proposed solar farms.

The proposed solar farms in Ogle County would be built near residents' homes and take nearly 330 acres (134 hectares) of farmland out of agricultural production for several years, the Rockford Register Star reported.

"When Ogle County did their comprehensive plan, and we bought this land, they said this is going to remain agricultural and if anything were to change, it would be residential at the very worst," said Heather Lalor, who created the petition with her husband, Mike Lalor. "Well, under this special-use permit, a solar farm would be allowed on ag land."
Heather Lalor said the 18-acre (7-hectare) solar farm near the Chicago Rockford International Airport, is an example of an ideal location for such farms.

"It's (zoned) industrial-commercial use," she said. "The nearest home as you drive off Kishwaukee Road heading on Beltline is three-tenths of a mile. But here? We're talking 276 feet."

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A special-permit doesn't guarantee a solar farm will be constructed, said Ogle County Board member Dan James. The Illinois Power Agency must also approve the developments.

The agency was established in 2007 to develop electricity procurement plans to "ensure adequate, reliable, affordable, efficient, and environmentally sustainable electric service at the lowest total cost over time for residential and small commercial customers."

A limited number of solar farms will be approved as part of the state agency's procurement program. Developers will have 18 months to complete their projects after applications are approved.

The push for solar farms comes as developers try to take advantage of tax incentives, rebates and a new state mandate that requires Illinois utilities generate at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

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