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A 30-acre solar farm project is being proposed for Rock Island County, possibly affecting residents' power rates for decades to come.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the zoning board of appeals will consider an application from SunPeak, a commercial solar power company based in Madison, Wisconsin. The meeting is at the county building, 1504 3rd Ave., Rock Island.

SunPeak is requesting a special use permit for a 30-acre site — roughly the size of 26 football fields — on farmland located on the western half of a 60-acre lot that is part of the Meyer Landscape & Design tree farm along 134th Avenue West in Edgington Township.

According to SunPeak's application, the 5-megawatt DC solar system will be divided into two separate projects adjacent to one another on the same plot.

Zoning and building safety director Greg Thorpe said the proposed farm measures 875-by-875-feet.

SunPeak needs pre-approved zoning sites in order to enter the state's renewable energy lottery, Thorpe said.

According to the Illinois Power Agency's 2017 long-term plan, the state handles its large number of renewable energy requests through a first-come, first-serve lottery, giving priority to projects having the most impact on greenhouse gases and power grids.

"The state will grant them a license and approve their project," Thorpe said. "They call it a community solar farm. This will be the first solar farm in Rock Island County anywhere near this size."

Thorpe said power produced by the solar farm would be available to all Rock Island County residents.

"The whole appeal to this is they will try to find subscribers for the next 20 years of power," he said. "Then they can lock in your power rates. They might be looking for larger subscribers like businesses and larger energy consumers."

Thorpe said that, after SunPeak gets approval from the county, the company will receive notification in 2019 if they have state approval.

"It's going to be more taxable than corn or beans would be, but it doesn't really create any long-term jobs if you're looking at it from a long-term standpoint," Thorpe said.

"I think it would be neat," he said. "These (solar) communities are the next step up from what residents are doing.

"At this point, they're just getting the concept approved," Thorpe said. "We haven't gotten to the details yet. It's the first interesting development we've had in a while."

According to its proposal, SunPeak would enter into a 20-year lease agreement with the landowner, with the option for two additional five-year lease terms. If the landowner decides not to pursue the additional lease at the end of the 20-year agreement, SunPeak will remove the solar farm system.

As part of the proposal, SunPeak would agree to restore all disturbed areas, including farmland, to its pre-construction condition.

The proposal states the maximum height of solar panels will not exceed 9 feet. SunPeak would install 6-foot-tall fences around the project to prevent wildlife from entering the area.

Mack Gapinski, senior project developer for SunPeak, said this will be the company's first solar farm in Illinois. Assuming all permits and incentives are approved, the project should be completed before August, 2019, he said.

There are several reasons why SunPeak chose Rock Island County, he said.

"Illinois has some very lucrative incentives for solar and community solar (power)," Gapinski said. "We've been working with Clean Energy Renewables, based in Moline. They knew the landowner and thought they would be agreeable to the location. There is existing infrastructure conducive to solar energy."

Gapinski said SunPeak will focus on recruiting businesses as initial subscribers. If homeowners want to sign up, a minimum of 220 in an initial group would be optimal, considering the cost of connecting to households.

"We need a critical mass to be able to sign everyone up," Gapinski said. "There is a cost to subscribing."

Gapinski said the business has already conducted a glare study that shows no impact to local homes or businesses.

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Night City Editor