The Bellflower Solar Farm straddling the Henry-Rush County lines could be online by the end of this year.
Its parent company, Lightsource bp, announced in December that it had secured a $376 million multi-project financing package and started construction on the 173 megawatt (MW) project east of Dunreith.
They broke ground just before Christmas.
Bringing industrial solar to Henry County
The Henry County portion of the 1,400-acre solar farm is between U.S. Hwy 40 and West County Line Road South, and South CR 25 West and South CR 225 West.
Lightsource bp first presented the project to Henry County officials in September 2020. The Henry County Planning Commission approved the project two months later.
In early 2021, Lightsource bp announced a power purchase agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. announced in early 2021.
With the announcement of its financing deal in December 2021, Lightsource bp also announced that it selected SOLV Energy as the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) Contractor for the Bellflower Solar Farm project.
Mary Grikas, Head of Communications, announced that the Bellflower Solar Farm is part of a U.S. Department of Energy study to measure the benefits of pollinator habitat at solar farms.
“At Bellflower, Lightsource bp and ecosystem experts will test a variety of seed mixes across both high-density pollinator gardens and low-density areas spanning over 1,000 acres under and around the solar panels,” Grikas said. “Researchers will also house hives in a ‘bee yard’ on site. These sites will provide shelter and forage for insects and other species that play vital ecological roles, including pollinating food crops.”
Grikas said Bellflower is one of six facilities across the Midwest selected as field research sites for the study.
The research team consists of the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
“Using visual inspections, insect nets, audio recorders and other methods, the researchers will be able to assess biodiversity– the variety and abundance of plant, insect, bird and bat species at the solar farm,” Grikas said. “Our goal is to see net biodiversity increase at all our project sites to ensure healthy ecological performance can co-exist with clean energy generation.”
More information about the pollinator study can be found at https://www.lightsourcebp.com/us/2021/12/pollinator-research-bellflower/
Road use agreements
The Henry County Commissioners have an agreement with Lightsource bp about which roads the company and its EPC can use for the project.
According to the agreement, the Bellflower project will use S. County Road 225 W, S. County Road 125 W and E. County Line Road S.
Grikas said Lightsource bp also has road use agreements with Rush County for predetermined road traffic patterns.
“The staffing agency for SOLV has been in contact with the Counties and will be hiring locally as much as feasible, with about 200 jobs expected for the duration of project construction,” she added. “We started preliminary construction work in early December, which was mainly related to setup of the construction trailers and laydown area. We will fully start construction in the next few weeks, and expect to bring the solar farm online in late 2022.”
Grikas said that during the construction period, the community can expect some construction noise during work hours.
“But once construction is complete, the solar farm is a quiet and clean neighbor over the project’s life of about 40 years,” she said. “We also have designed setbacks from nearby property lines and will plant evergreen screening where needed to protect our neighbors’ viewsheds. We have selected wood post farm fencing to better integrate with the rural landscape.”
Grikas said the Bellflower Solar Farm is expected to generate $1.9 million in property tax revenue its first full year. The taxes will be split between Henry and Rush Counties. The project could add $30 million in tax revenue over the course of its life; again, shared between both counties.
Grikas said there will be an annual operations budget of $2.4 million for Bellflower and that money “will be primarily spent in the region, as well.”
Solar ordinance update
When Lightsource bp first asked permission to build the Bellflower Solar Farm in southern Henry County, some local politicians questioned the company’s timing.
The Henry County Planning Commission spent much of 2020 developing a new ordinance to regulate industrial solar projects in the county. A draft of the proposed ordinance was available for public review when Lightsource bp filed for its project, but the Henry County Commissioners had not yet adopted the new rules.
Senior Development Manager Vince Green said the Bellflower project was based off the draft solar ordinance the Henry County Planning Commission had created.
Kevin Smith, CEO of the Americas for Lightsource bp, explained in November 2020 that the company had already been in the area for more than a year. Green told the planning commission at that time that Lightsource bp would have moved forward with the request sooner if they hadn’t been slowed down by COVID-19.
The Henry County Commissioners voted in December 2020 to reject the proposed solar ordinance. They reaffirmed their vote in February 2021.
“This means that the rejection of the solar ordinance and solar moratorium that was passed in December remains in place,” Commissioner Bobbi Plummer said in February. “The three commissioners are independently working on changes to the solar ordinance.”
The county commissioners have been working on changes to the rules regarding industrial solar farms for almost a year.
With the news that Bellflower Solar Farm is moving forward, The Courier-Times reached out to the three county commissioners this month for an update on the solar ordinance.
“There is not a committee working on the ordinance,” Commissioner Ed Tarantino told the newspaper. “The commissioners have no immediate plans to discuss the ordinance at this time.”
The proposed Henry County Solar Ordinance remains available on the county website at http://henryco.net/attachments/Proposed%20Henry%20County%20Solar%20Ordinance%2010-15-2020.pdf.