Rep. Meier sponsors bill to help create solar energy jobs while protecting farmland

State Representative Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) filed legislation to address issues and prevent farmland problems stemming from the development of commercial solar energy projects. Rep. Meier anticipates his proposal will help create more solar energy jobs in the state.

“These commercial solar projects are coming in quickly and creating a lot of jobs,” said Rep. Meier. “Everything is different in their contracts. Establishing a uniform standard for commercial solar projects will help provide some standards for landowners and help make sure there is financial protection for decommissioning the projects. We want to make sure this is done right while protecting Illinois’ number one industry, agriculture.”

The legislation proposes requiring commercial solar energy developers to enter into an agricultural impact mitigation agreement (AIMA) with the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). The goal is to protect landowners and assure land impacted by construction and deconstruction be properly restored. The legislation (HB 4651) is supported by the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB).

Meier estimated 57 solar development companies are working in 64 counties.

IDOA uses AIMAs to set minimum wind energy and utility construction standards on agricultural land, while landowners can negotiate additional easement requirements for their property.
In December, county Farm Bureau delegates passed new policy supporting statewide standards for farmland preservation and protection of private property rights and public health and safety, while allowing reasonable development of commercial solar energy projects.

Meier said he approached IFB, IDOA, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Commerce Commission and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to discuss issues related to solar energy development.

“We don’t want some nasty cleanup site when it’s done,” Rep. Meier said. “We want productive Illinois farmland. The legislation I filed is the right thing to do.”

Get to know AIMAs

AIMAs set minimum construction standards on agricultural land to address issues and avert problems, now and in the future, caused by renewable energy and utility projects.

Through AIMAs, IDOA works to avert damage to agricultural land and losses of crops and livestock. Even with an AIMA, landowners may negotiate additional easement requirements for their property.
AIMAs cover not only equipment placement, land restoration, and damage repair after construction, but also where crews and equipment access sites and construction during wet weather. If crews damage drainage tile, an AIMA stipulates how the damage is to be repaired. Any conservation structures, such as terraces, and conservation practices are accounted for and damages must be repaired.

AIMAs ensure livestock doesn’t get loose when construction occurs in pastures.

AIMAs also stipulate landowners receive advance notice before crews come on their property and toll-free telephone numbers to report inferior work.