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UPDATE: Urbana City Council Approves Lease Agreement For Proposed Solar Farm At Landfill Site

Section of the Urbana Landfill Complex

Aerial view from Google Earth of a portion of the Urbana Landfill Complex, set to be leased for use as a solar farm. Google Earth

Champaign County is the site of several proposed solar panel installations, but only one of them would go up on a landfill site. That could happen, under a lease agreement approved by the Urbana City Council at their meeting Monday night. 

The old landfill next to the in northeast Urbana was closed and capped off years ago. But under a lease agreement approved by the Urbana City Council on a 5-0 vote, San Jose-based SunPower could construct a solar farm on 41 acres of the landfill.

Council members added one amendment to the agreement. It stipulates that SunPower may not install solar panels within 500 feet of the Saline Branch Drainage Ditch on the north end of the landfill site. Ald. Bill Brown says he wants to protect the vegetation that's built up in that area since the landfill was capped, and guard against erosion near the Saline Ditch.

SunPower Project Developer Chad Tady says they’ve built solar farms before on brownfield sites --- sites that have seen previous development that may raise environmental concerns --- including one that’s been operating on a brownfield site in Chicago for ten years.

“It’s a project that the utility owns, we installed, and are still providing services for O and M on that project,” said Tady at a city council Committee of the Whole meeting on December 10. “And then, we’ve done a number of landfill projects, including with public agencies.”

But the Urbana solar farm project depends on SunPower qualifying for state renewable energy incentives. So, the agreement with Urbana starts with a two-year lease option, with details of a long-term lease to be worked out if Sunpower wins the incentives.

If the solar farm is built, the city of Urbana would have an additional opportunity, which city  Environmental Sustainability Manger Scott Tess says “is the opportunity for the city to purchase a portion of the electricity production on that landfill to power a city facility.”

That’s estimated as enough electricity to power the Urbana City Building with a little power left over.

A lottery to choose recipients of the renewable energy credits that SunPower is hoping for is expected to be held in January by the Illinois Power Agency.

UPDATE: This article was updated to include the Dec. 17 vote by the Urbana City Council approving the lease proposal. It was corrected to clarify that a solar farm SunPower constructed in Chicago is on a brownfield site, but not over a landfill. - JM 12/18/18