New Illinois Laws A Boon For Solar, Rural Communities

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Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Ill., has signed two bills that will help ensure solar development benefits farmers and rural communities in Illinois, according to the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA).

The state’s solar industry worked with the Illinois Farm Bureau, local authorities and other stakeholders to shape S.B.486, which creates a standard tax assessment value for solar farms in Illinois, and S.B.2591, which sets standards for the construction and deconstruction of solar farms on agricultural land, explains ISEA.

The Illinois House and Senate passed both bills unanimously, and Rauner signed S.B.486 on Aug. 10 and S.B.2591 on June 29.

Specifically, according to ISEA, the solar property tax legislation sets a standard tax assessment value for large solar installations, creating certainty around the property tax revenue that solar farms will pay to local taxing bodies – helping to fund schools, roads and other critical services. Under the legislation, each megawatt of ground-mounted solar installed in Illinois will generate an average of $6,000-$8,000 per year in property tax revenue. The industry expects to install up to 2,000 MW of ground-mounted solar farms by 2021, which will create a total $250 million-$350 million in property tax revenue over a 25-year lifespan, estimates ISEA. Under Illinois’ funding formula, approximately 70% of this revenue will be dedicated to funding schools.

“Solar energy is a rapidly growing industry in Illinois, and it’s good not only for the environment but also for the economy,” says Illinois Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sponsor of S.B.486. “It is my hope that the revenue generated from this industry can benefit local schools and communities and encourage the continued growth of solar power in our state.”

“Solar businesses are ready and willing to create new jobs, clean energy and tax revenue to support Illinois communities. This bill provides a framework for us to move forward,” adds Lesley McCain, executive director of ISEA. “The solar industry was proud to work with the farm bureau, county tax assessors and school districts to develop smart solar legislation that benefits all Illinoisans.”

The solar industry also worked in partnership with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and other advocates to support smart solar policy in Illinois, notes ISEA.

“ELPC has helped drive clean energy development in Illinois, and we are pleased that Governor Rauner has signed the solar energy legislation that the General Assembly passed this spring,” states Howard Learner, executive director of ELPC. “The stage is set even better to accelerate solar energy development that is good for job creation and good for a cleaner energy future in Illinois.”

The other bill ensures that solar farms can coexist with agriculture in Illinois while providing long-term benefits to soil and water quality, says ISEA. It requires solar developers to enter into an Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement (AIMA) with the Illinois Department of Agriculture prior to solar farm construction. The AIMA will set standards for solar construction and deconstruction and require financial assurances from developers that land will be restored to its prior use at the end of a solar farm’s life.

ISEA notes that these bills will also help Illinois reach its statewide goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025.

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