Chicago-based Invenergy previously proposed a solar panel farm in Lake County to be build by 2024. The above photo is of a solar panel farm the company built in Grand Ridge, Ill. - Original Credit: Handout (Invenergy / HANDOUT)
Chicago-based Invenergy previously proposed a solar panel farm in Lake County to be build by 2024. The above photo is of a solar panel farm the company built in Grand Ridge, Ill. - Original Credit: Handout (Invenergy / HANDOUT)
The Lake County Council unanimously approved a solar farm ordinance that will require public hearings for such projects, which is something residents have been pushing for since April.

The county council approved in April a resolution that would, if approved by the plan commission, allow solar farm projects to be presented without public hearings.

The council approved the resolution after Invenergy, a Chicago-based company that works in wind, solar, natural gas and energy storage, proposed to build a 1,400-acre solar panel farm in Eagle Creek Township by 2024.

Ultimately, the council rescinded its resolution so that the plan commission can consider a solar farm ordinance recommended by consultants hired by the Lake County Commissioners to review county ordinances. The plan commission voted in August to approve an ordinance that requires public hearings.

But, residents were mostly unhappy after the plan commission’s vote because if a project meets the ordinance’s requirements then it’ll be hard for residents to argue the need for stricter requirements.

Residents were upset that moments before the plan commission voted, an amendment was made to change the set back requirement from 100 feet to 50 feet – which means solar farms can be build 50 feet away from other property.

Four people addressed the council Tuesday regarding the ordinances, according to the council members. Two farmers spoke in favor of a solar farms and one of the farmers said he saw an increase in revenue after converting his farm from crops to solar, council members said.

Resident Mike Lee, whose son lives near where the proposed Invenergy solar farm would be built, said he addressed the council to request that the setback requirement be shifted back to 100 feet as the plan commission originally discussed.

“I asked to put that back so that it can be discussed on a case-by-case basis instead of being a blanketed thing,” Lee said.

In a 7-0 vote, the council approved the ordinance. Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said that the ordinance was approved with the 50 foot setback requirement.

The council assured residents Tuesday that the ordinance was not approved with a particular company in mind, Lee said, adding that he doesn’t believe that the Invenergy project had nothing to do with the ordinance.

“The people who lived there were really wronged by this," Lee said.

Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, who is also on the plan commission, said the ordinance has gone through the proper channels to include public hearings.

“We want the public to be able to speak,” Dernulc said.

Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, said that no particular solar farm project was considered when approving the ordinance and that he’s been “in support of this ordinance all along."

Bilski said the ordinance does not relate to a particular project, but that it establishes “a method by which they move forward has been established.”

Solar energy is more cost efficient and sustainable compared to coal energy, Bilski said.

“I absolutely support renewable energy. This seems to be a no brainier," Bilski said.
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