Morgan County Forced to Pass Updates On Wind & Solar Ordinance By New State Law

By Benjamin Cox on May 23, 2023 at 9:50am

The Illinois General Assembly enacted a law this January that enacted a state ordinance on the siting and permitting process for wind and solar farms. Signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker, the law now supersedes local governments from passing or enacting more restrictive ordinances on renewable energy projects.

Illinois joins California and New York in creating such a law, that proponents say opens up the abilities for more wind and solar projects to get started.

The Morgan County Commissioners voted on adopting the new state law into the county’s existing ordinance.

Regional Planning Commission Director Dusty Douglas says it strips county governments of their local power to regulate these types of projects: “It’s essentially saying that a county like ours can’t impose restrictions more stringent than what is being recommended through the public act that passed in January. It kind of takes away, kind of repeals our ordinance and replaced it with a new one based upon the state’s recommendations. The counties have lost some of their power.”

Douglas says that it makes changes specifically to Morgan County’s wind ordinance when it comes to setbacks and siting permit applications: “The setbacks in [the public act] are a little bit easier than ours. There is still some parameters in the ordinance where a project has to go through the Illinois Pollution Control Board, and that will effect how our setbacks actually are. I don’t really know at this point how big of a deal that’s going to be. The ordinance also prevents counties from kind of throwing any roadblocks in the way of a developer as far as exorbitant siting fees or making things that are any further restrictions that would kind of deter a development. You can’t get into density. You can’t get into height restrictions as long as it’s good with the FAA. Local authorities can’t really say anything about it. The list of changes goes on and on.”

Douglas says the new law did have one positive in regards to solar projects in Morgan County: “We didn’t feel we had much teeth because of a lack of zoning. We didn’t have the authority to exercise solar restrictions. Now, the one good thing that came out of this is that solar is now encompassed in this new ordinance. We have the ability to take a look at large commercial projects and we won’t really be judging them as much as just taking a look and make sure they check all the boxes with the setbacks that are there, if they fencing is correct, etc. It’s not restrictive at all, but at least it puts kind of a standardized format out there.”

Counties have until May 31st to rescind their local restrictions on wind and solar projects according to the law. Last year, Governor Pritzker said at an Illinois Farm Bureau forum that he opposed limits on local control of wind and solar projects. According to proponents of the new law, what changed was that many counties started creating local bans.

The Farm Bureau opposed the bill arguing that the standards should have required longer distances between wind turbines and neighboring properties. Also, the organization wanted to preserve the ability of counties to regulate the drainage plans of renewable energy projects to help reduce excess runoff and erosion.

As of last year, 15 counties in the state had rules that made development of wind and solar projects almost impossible to site.

Douglas told the Morgan County Commissioners that he does not believe that this issue is done, and may likely face challenges within the coming year.