SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WICS/WSRP) — The largest solar farm to be ever proposed in central Illinois was approved this week in Sangamon County.
Farmland on the border of Sangamon and Morgan counties was officially zoned for a $535 million solar farm by the Sangamon County Board on Tuesday, Nov. 9, at the county board meeting.
The name of the massive project is Double Black Diamond Solar and it's being developed by Boston-based company Swift Current Energy.
“I think it says a lot for Sangamon County that they have passed this and approved it,” Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolarUSA in downtown Springfield, said.
Knox has been a part of the Illinois solar industry for 13 years. She says not only will the project provide major benefits to the entire Midwest, but also for the state and local community.
Double Black Diamond will be constructed over a year’s time starting at the end of 2022, according to a presentation given at the board meeting on Tuesday.
Covering 3,250 acres, the developer estimates that the project will create 967 local jobs during construction. Over the 35-year lifespan of the farm, it's estimated that Sangamon County will receive more than $2 million in tax revenue every year, totaling $71 million overall.
The site is expected to generate 592.8MW of energy, enough to power 85,000 homes. For context, the 2020 U.S. Census says there are just over 92,000 homes in all of Sangamon County, as of 2019.
Another large solar farm, Prairie Wolf Solar, is expected to generate 200MW of power in Coles County.
Swift Current Energy has also built smaller-scale wind and solar farms in Christian, Logan, and Mason Counties.
Molly Berns is the executive director of the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission. She says the power produced at Double Black Diamond will feed back to the MISO electric grid, which stretches from Minnesota to Louisiana.
She says a plant like Double Black Diamond will help reach the state’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.
“As they change over to renewable energy sources, they’re going to be looking more and more toward alternative options, and I think what was approved last night is one of those options," Berns said.
There was some debate at Tuesday’s board meeting over the fact that the solar farm will take thousands of acres of farmland out of service. Proponents argued that the landowners leased their property for the project willingly and will receive regular monetary payments for the energy produced on their land.
In regards to the loss of land that grows crops, both Knox and Berns argue that there is evidence that shows a benefit to allowing farmland to rest and for nutrients to return to the soil.
For Knox, she is also looking into the future of how Sangamon County may be able to one day go 100% renewable. She says farms like Double Black Diamond are a start, but wind and solar are variable energy sources, and large-scale energy storage infrastructure will be needed locally.
“With energy storage integrated, the ability to be able to produce this much energy, and to be able to store it locally, and distribute it locally, is very exciting," Knox said.