State Senate passes solar farmland protections

Legislation aims to hold solar companies accountable if projects need to be deconstructed later.

5-14-18_Solar Panels Uof I-1

A bill the Illinois Senate passed last week requires commercial solar developers to sign an agricultural impact mitigation agreement with the Illinois Department of Agriculture at least 45 days before construction.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois)

By Kay Shipman

The Illinois Senate passed guidelines last week to protect farmland during commercial solar energy development. Approved with a 51-0 vote, SB 2591 is an Illinois Farm Bureau state legislative priority.

Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, acknowledged negotiations were tough, “but in this case, we recognized it was in everybody’s best interest to protect landowners who want (solar development) leases.”

The legislation requires commercial solar energy developers to enter into an agricultural impact mitigation agreement (AIMA) with the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, is the sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives.

The goal is to protect landowners and assure land impacted by construction and deconstruction be properly restored. Bennett noted solar developers are seeking lengthy leases of 25 to 40 years, and “we try to anticipate that and give them (landowners) peace of mind when they enter these leases. ... In the end, we said, ‘You (solar developers) can flourish in Illinois, but at the same time, we want you to be accountable.’”

Bill Bodine, IFB associate director of state legislation, explained the bill requires commercial solar developers to sign an AIMA at least 45 days before construction.

IDOA will post a template AIMA on its website. “Landowners contacted by a solar company should review the AIMA template and educate themselves about the restoration standards it includes,” Bodine advised.

As proposed in the legislation, the AIMA will set restoration standards for deconstruction of a commercial solar site and require financial assurances for restoration “should the project become abandoned and need to be deconstructed at a later time,” Bodine said. 

Bennett praised IFB’s efforts on farmers’ behalf: “The Farm Bureau did such a good job on this bill.”

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