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(TAYLORVILLE) — After an arduous two-and-a-half hour session concerning the building of an electric storage facility in Christian County was issued a Special Use Permit – with provisions – to East Point Energy, by the Christian County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The vote was 4-2-1 with Adrian Adcock and newly-seated member, Len Corzine, voting, “No” and ZBA Chairman, Jim Overholt voting to abstain.
Among the provisions the company is to come up with are a report on mine subsidence, effects on drainage and an emergency response plan. The location of the proposed facility is located in South Fork Township, approximately 3 miles south of the current Kincaid Power Plant which is scheduled for closure in 2027 and sits above the former Peabody Mine site.
Will Frost with the Sangchris Energy Center, re-capped the presentation on the project which he presented at the October meeting of the ZBA. They are proposing to build a lithium-ion battery storage facility capable of storing 300 megawatts of power on a 45-acre tract of land, however, he said, only 30 acres would be used for construction. He believes the source will be a pair of nearby solar farms which are in the planning and development phase. While not revealing the cost of the project, he did say it will be “upward of nine figures.” The company was asking for an extension to the usual two-year duration of a Special Use Permit to four years. The Board denied the request saying it was unfair to other organizations which had been issued permits and then need to re-apply for an extension. It was noted several projects recently had to re-file due to delays.
Frost said the reason they asked for the extended time was due to the lengthly delay in obtaining a permit for interconnection to the electric grid. He said the organization which issues permits are just getting around to granting permission for requests which were filed in 2019.
Board member Joe Dorr asked why the company didn’t wait until the interconnect report was completed. Frost said the cost for the report in dollars was a six to seven figure investment and the company wasn’t willing to make that commitment until they had a permit in hand. Frost said the organization cannot deny interconnection to them, but it must be permitted.
Frost said they have permission to go on to the property to do various studies including the drainage issues and geological studies to investigate the dangers of mine subsidence.
“We will not build on the site if it is not safe,” Frost told the ZBA.
Two area residents were not in favor of the facility and spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Carolyn Randall wanted to know if there were other locations where these were being built, “Or are we the Guinea pigs?”
She said her opinion was the facility could be a health hazard and was worried about what would happen in case of an earthquake and a “fire that would never go out.”
Carl Spengler was also concerned about the safety of the project and the capabilities of the Midland and Pawnee Fire Protection Districts personnel to contain a fire as well as the subsidence issue.
Later in the meeting, Frost and fire expert Eric Wood tried to dispel those fears. Frost said each individual enclosure weighs 30 tons and an earthquake would have minimal impact. There would be 100 enclosures on the property according to the site plan.
Wood said each enclosure is monitored 24 hours a day and if there was an indication of an impending fire, it could be shut down and the stored electricity could be absorbed by the other units.
If there was a fire, Wood said there tests show it is just better to let it burn itself out. Putting water on the fire would only aggravate the situation by causing the energy to dissipate at a higher rate, causing more damage. He also noted, inside the enclosures the batteries are segregated and the possibility of an entire enclosure going up in flames was rather remote. If there was a fire to consume the entire enclosure, Wood said it would take six to eight hours for it to burn out.
As far as air quality, Wood said that is also monitored and if there was any release into the atmosphere, it would mainly be CO2 and some hydro-carbons which would dissipate into the atmosphere within a few yards of the facility.
Frost said they would work with the county on financial aspects of the project. Currently, the State of Illinois hasn’t set up guidelines as to how storage facilities should be assessed, like they do for solar and wind projects. He said he has been in contact with County Board Chairman Bryan Sharp to discuss such a proposal.
Following the vote, the Board took up the Special Use Permit application for the North Pana Solar project for a second month. In October, Pana residents whose property adjoin the site spoke in opposition to the project, saying they had not been notified of the application for Special Use as required in the Christian County code. In addition, there were no representatives of the company in attendance and the request was denied.
The proposal is to build a 35-acre solar collection array on a 37-acre tract of land on Pana’s southwest side, outside the city limits. It would be located along 2400E Road, about 2,000 feet north of the intersection of 400N and 2400E roads in Pana Township.
At this meeting, Attorney William Shay spoke on behalf of the company, but members wanted to speak directly to the developers of the project who were, again, not present.
The matter was tabled until a company representative(s) could be present to address the ZBA.