Solar farm proposal near Hawthorn Woods faces stiff opposition from residents, village

A commercial solar project proposed for a 38-acre site in unincorporated Lake County near Hawthorn Woods has sparked intense opposition from the village and residents in the area.

Renewable Properties LLC, applying as RPIL Solar 3 LLC, is seeking a conditional use permit to build a ground-mounted solar facility at 25428 N. Fairfield Road. The facility itself would occupy about 23 acres and have 11,544 solar panels.

Opposition in advance of a public hearing before the Lake County Zoning Board of Appeals has been widespread and united. Emails have been circulating, homeowner groups have been meeting and the village board at a special meeting this past week unanimously approved a resolution objecting to the project.

After being peppered with requests to delay the public hearing — originally scheduled for Thursday — and relocate to a larger venue, the county has postponed it to 1 p.m. April 3 at the Ela Area Public Library, 275 Mohawk Trail in Lake Zurich.

Opponents say they have many questions about potential environmental impacts and other issues. But the main objection is the proposed location, which is bordered by subdivisions on three sides and a public park to the east across Fairfield Road.

“We have over 1,500 people within a mile of this which is ridiculous,” says Hawthorn Woods Mayor Dominick DiMaggio. “This is just a terrible location.”

Hawthorn Woods has a say because the property is within the village’s 1½-mile jurisdictional planning area. The property is designated for single-family homes, forest/grassland/beach and agricultural uses in Lake County’s land-use plan, according to the resolution.

The village says it was notified of Renewable Properties’ application on March 1, leaving little time to prepare. Officials now are reviewing the 166-page application, preparing comments and encouraging residents to attend the April 3 ZBA hearing.

“It’s the fact that this solar farm doesn’t fit in the middle of all these neighborhoods,” said Jason Arends, a resident of the White Birch Meadows subdivision, whose home borders the proposed site. “I think we’re really an unintended consequence. Solar is great, but this is just a power plant in our backyard.”

This is the third commercial solar facility proposed in unincorporated Lake County, all submitted by San Francisco-based Renewable Properties. Commercial solar facilities in Fremont and Antioch townships were approved by the ZBA in November 2023 and January, respectively.

A separate proposal by Renewable Properties for a solar farm within Antioch village limits is pending a final decision by the village board. An advisory panel has twice recommended against it.

The company has been developing community and small-scale projects for more than seven years across the U.S., according to Jim Auld, director of site acquisition, and is working on “a number” of sites in Illinois.

Auld said Illinois has done a “great job modifying past legislation to make community legislation more accessible.”

State law establishing standards to facilitate and expedite permit approval of wind and solar facilities in unincorporated areas of Illinois took effect Jan. 27, 2023. Among other provisions, the law says those facilities must be at least 50 feet from the neighboring property line and 150 feet from an occupied building.

The law also says a county can’t adopt stricter standards or enact regulations prohibiting those facilities from being developed or operated in areas zoned to allow agricultural or industrial uses.

The market for solar projects in Illinois has seen a dramatic shift the past few years, according to Eric Waggoner, Lake County’s director of planning, building and development. Costs have dropped making systems more affordable to install and federal and Illinois state governments have provided more incentives for residents and developers, he said.

“Consequently, as a combined result of solar market incentives, reduced solar technology costs and the new solar permitting law, we anticipate an increase in local commercial solar projects across our jurisdiction in coming months,” Waggoner said.

This 38-acre site along Fairfield Road near Hawthorn Woods is being proposed for a commercial facility. Courtesy of village of Hawthorn Woods
Proposed solar farm site along Fairfield Road in Hawthorn Woods. Courtesy of village of Hawthorn Woods
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