Farms produce energy from a variety of sources — food, ethanol from corn and, increasingly in Tazewell County, wind. One more could rise soon.

Solar farms “should be coming in the near future,” Krystal Bachman, county director of community development, said Wednesday.

Large-scale commercial solar farms might already have established themselves in Tazewell. They haven’t, at least in part because the county has no legal structure in place for them.

That likely will change tonight, when the County Board votes on an ordinance to set guidelines and requirements for installing both commercial and community-based solar energy systems.

“We’ve had several calls over the last few years, (asking), ‘Do we have an ordinance?’” Bachman said. “Solar is coming. It’s better to be pro-active” with established rules and guidelines for systems both large and small.

“We can find ways” through current ordinances to regulate installation of home-based solar power systems, but the new ordinance “will provide specific guidelines,” she said.

The board’s Land Use Committee heard no objections from county residents when it held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on May 2, Bachman said.

“It is the intent of this ordinance to encourage the development of (solar energy systems) that reduce reliance on foreign and out-of-state energy resources, bolster local economic development and job creation,” according to the proposed law’s introductory statement.

If passed, the law will apply only to unincorporated county areas, Bachman said.

Several companies in Tazewell, including Burroughs Farm near Morton, already generate their own electricity through solar systems they’ve installed. Private homes throughout the county also have solar systems, with energy-collecting panels both ground-based and installed on roofs.

The new county law would follow general zoning requirements for land use and structures in terms of setbacks, fencing and limited impact on adjacent properties. Restrictions on roof-based solar panels, for example, would minimize view blockage and shade cast on surrounding properties, and allow access for firefighters.

The ordinance also addresses “community solar gardens” installed to supply area homes or new subdivisions with shared sun-generated power.

State law permits homeowners to, in effect, sell unused energy to their power companies in exchange for credits on future electric bills, most often in winter months when solar power declines.

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