DANVILLE – The Vermilion County Board this week had a first reading on a new solar farm energy systems ordinance for the county.

County Board Chairman Larry Baughn said he’s been working on this since he became chairman about nine months ago.

He worked with the Illinois Farm Bureau and its law team in addition to the Vermilion County Farm Bureau and county board members. They also looked at solar ordinances from six other counties to see what would be the best fit for Vermilion County.

The public can view the proposed ordinance on the county’s website at www.vercounty.org or see a copy in person at the county board office in the Vermilion County Administration Building, 201 N. Vermilion St.

With the county not having zoning regulations, Baughn said they thought there should be commercial requirements so companies wouldn't have free rein. There will remain no requirements for residents, such as putting solar panels on a home.

“(They) can do what they want,” Baughn said about county residents.

The recent Illinois solar energy tax credit lottery saw four proposed projects in Vermilion County including in Georgetown, which has its own solar ordinance.

Baughn said about solar versus wind energy projects, he sees the solar projects as being “not as disruptive, (with farmers able to) farm around it a little easier” and removal also easier too.

Requirements for the Solar Farm Energy Systems (SFES) include: a building permit; the start of construction on a site within two years of application approval by the county board; height not exceeding 18 feet at maximum tilt of the solar panels; lot will be more than 5 acres in size; the front, side and rear yard setbacks are a minimum of 10 feet from the property lines which form the outside perimeter of the project area and also 100 feet from a residential structure; a locked fence to enclose the SFES of at least 6 feet tall but no greater than 8 feet; if lighting is provided, it shall be shielded and downcast such that the light does not spill onto the adjacent parcel; noise levels measured at the property line shall comply with standards set out by the Illinois Pollution Control Board and may be enforced by the state and county; the SFES shall prevent glare toward inhabited buildings on adjacent properties and highways, and placement of the generator or noise producing electrical equipment shall be placed at the center of the project to the extent practical; and all wiring between solar panels and the solar farm facility substation shall be underground whenever possible.

There also are outdoor storage, proof of an Agriculture Impact Mitigation Agreement, building codes, vegetation and ground cover and weed control, drainage, “high voltage” warning signs if needed and annual review and reporting requirements and a decommissioning plan must be submitted.

The application process also has a fee and requirements.

The City of Danville in August 2018 put in place solar energy regulations for the city.

The solar panel regulations allow for small ground-mounted or roof-mounted systems. Solar panels, if roof mounted, do not have zoning district restrictions.

The solar arrays could go on property zoned industrial, or also zoned agriculture with a special-use permit.

The Illinois Legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Act, with incentives and tax credits, which went into effect in 2017. The new law allows for the installation of solar panels such as on properties for a community solar project where people can subscribe to a share of a larger solar farm.

Behind the meter projects are when a business or organization can install solar that directly powers their business or building. Extra energy produced by their solar array is credited to them through net-metering. Community solar projects open up access to homeowners, business and organizations that can’t install solar on their roof or property. They can participate in a nearby community solar project and be credited for the energy produced by their share of the solar installation.

A good location for a community solar project, as some companies have discussed: 10 to 15 acres of land; flat land or south facing slopes preferred. Less than 8 percent slopes required, and no shading from nearby trees or structures; not in a wetland or floodplain; close to three-phase electrical lines and/or substation owned by Ameren or ComEd; and no better use for the land for the next 30 years.

In other business this week, the county board established civil, criminal and traffic assessments fees charged by the circuit clerk; and approved a $7,000 feasibility study about making safety improvements to County Highway 14 (seven miles on Attica Road from the east edge of Rossville to the Indiana state line) and preparing the application for Highway Safety Improvement Program funding.

Baughn said semi tractor-trailers have had some problems with the turn there and guardrails have been hit.

County Engineer Adrian Greenwell’s salary also was increased 3 percent.

The county entered into an agreement from July 2018 to July 2024 with the Illinois Department of Transportation for transfer of Federal Surface Transportation Program funds to pay for half of the county engineer's salary.

The county board approved appropriating $115,669 in motor fuel tax funds for Greenwell’s salary from June 16, 2019 to June 15, 2020, and authorizing IDOT to transfer $57,834.50 of the Federal Surface Transportation Program funds allocated to Vermilion County to IDOT in return for an equal amount of state funds.

The county board also appropriated $29,900 from the county’s MFT funds for paying the county engineer’s expenses in the next year.

Baughn also said he’s not heard anything about Collins Tower and he said about 52 county vehicles, mostly sheriff’s squad cars, were damaged with the recent hail storm.

Coming up next week at the county board's property committee meeting is a discussion on having a county renaming policy.

Baughn said the county doesn’t have a policy, even going back to the renaming of the county courthouse in honor of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman two years ago. There’s been recent discussion too about renaming the administration building, which was once a post office and federal courthouse, after Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon.