Invenergy officials explain the proposed 700-acre solar farm to area residents Wednesday at Elwood Jr./Sr. High School. Katya Samoteskul of Invenergy says the division within the community is common wherever the company has proposed solar farms. “We want to have a conversation with residents and answer their questions,” she said. “We want to hear their concerns.” Staff photo by Ken de la Bastide
Invenergy officials explain the proposed 700-acre solar farm to area residents Wednesday at Elwood Jr./Sr. High School. Katya Samoteskul of Invenergy says the division within the community is common wherever the company has proposed solar farms. “We want to have a conversation with residents and answer their questions,” she said. “We want to hear their concerns.” Staff photo by Ken de la Bastide
ELWOOD – A public meeting conducted by the company planning to construct a solar farm in northern Madison County drew mostly opponents.

A steady stream of opponents and supporters of the proposed 120-megawatt Lone Oak Solar Farm attended the open house Wednesday at the Elwood Jr./Sr. High School.

Chicago-based Invenergy, an alternative energy company, is planning to use at least 700 acres that would entail 35 separate parcels of land between county roads 600 West and 350 West and from County Road 1000 North to 1300 North.

Katya Samoteskul of Invenergy said the division within the community is common wherever the company has proposed solar farms.

“We want to have a conversation with residents and answer their questions,” she said. “We want to hear their concerns.”

Samoteskul said the company never requested a 10-year 100 percent tax abatement on the project. She said it will be a 10-year abatement that phases out by 10% per year.

She said the company is in negotiations with county officials regarding a one-time payment.

Samoteskul said the project will cost a minimum of $110 million.

The company is required to construct a fence around the site of the solar panels but it also intends to place two rows of bushes, she said.

“We voluntarily agreed to install the buffer," Samoteskul said. "This is a great location because the infrastructure is already here.”

The Madison County Plan Commission is scheduled to consider a request for a special exception for the solar farm on Tuesday.

Samoteskul said if the special exception is denied the company would have to reconsider its plans.

She said the solar farm would operate for 35 years and provide Madison County with $26 million in property taxes and local landowners with $35 million.

Limited construction could start this year and be completed in 2023.

Tony New, who lives with his family on the southern edge of the proposed solar farm, admitted to having mixed emotions about the development.

“I’m concerned about the aesthetics,” he said. “I don’t want to be looking at fencing.”

New is also concerned about any possible lighting around the site and the impact on property values.

Lloyd McPhearson said he doesn’t care one way or the other about the placement of the solar farm.

“It wouldn’t bother me,” he said.

Brian Reichart said there are better locations for a solar farm where there are not 50 homes within a half-mile of the site.

“It’s the wrong location in Madison County,” he said. “I don’t want to see them take away fine farm ground. There are places with marginal farmland and not in a populated area."

The president of Red Gold said he was not at the open house to represent the company.

“I feel sorry for the people who will be surrounded by the solar panels around their homes,” Reichart said.

He said the project in some ways is gerrymandered because the company signed leases with certain property owners.

“All the investors are from out of state and all the power will go out of the state,” Reichart said.

Michele Etchison said her family signed a lease for 200 acres to be included in the project.

“We did a lot of research,” she said. “We support renewable energy. We’re open to how things are.

“This is a good opportunity for us financially,” Etchison said. “Farming is not always productive. We will still farm other ground. It is an honorable profession and my husband will continue to farm.”

She said the leasing of the property will allow the family to keep the farm and it will give the ground a rest and be productive in the future.

Etchison said conversation with neighbors opposed to the project has not always been cordial.

“We tried to educate ourselves,” she said. “We can’t see any negatives. I know people don’t want to look at it, but we believe we should do with our property what we want.

“This will be good for the community and good for us,” Etchison said.

Last week the Madison County Council unanimously approved a preliminary designation for an economic development revitalization area for the proposed site.

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