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Solar Farm Development & Leasing in Illinois

What Should Landowners Know About Solar Farm Development in Illinois?

As of August 2023, Illinois is one of the most active states for solar farm development and activity. The number of solar farms in Illinois have been increasing exponentially over the past decade. This is a direct result of the implementation of various incentives promoting renewable energy generation across the state. Many solar developers are actively planning new projects across the state. This presents a great opportunity for landowners to earn a steady stream of income from their land through solar lease payments, also known as solar payments. Landowners in Illinois are receiving offers from developers to lease their land for solar farms. They often wonder how much their land is worth for a solar farm and if they are receiving a good offer. Leasing land for solar farms helps landowners provide their future generations with long-term financial stability. There are several factors that go into solar farm valuations that landowners and realtors should consider.

illinois solar farm growth throughout the years

What is the Process for Leasing Land for a Solar Farm in Illinois?

Step 1: Solar Lease Negotiation Period in Illinois

The solar lease negotiation process is the first step landowners take when interested in having a solar farm on their property. Land professionals can assist landowners during this period to make sure they are receiving the best deal possible but also understand the time period between signing the lease and having an active solar farm on their land.

  • During the negotiations, landowners can negotiate solar lease payments, the length of the lease for the solar farm, and what the percentage of the escalator is to combat inflation.

Step 2: Solar Lease Option Agreement in Illinois

The next step is for the landowner to get a solar farm option agreement. At that point, the solar developer has done a preliminary study, also called a feasibility study, to know if the site is potentially suitable for solar farm development.

Why Can’t I Get a Solar Lease Agreement Directly?

The process of a solar farm project in Illinois begins with optioning the land, which is called “site control” by developers. The reason solar developers cannot go straight to a solar lease is because they have to evaluate the land thoroughly. Typically the initial screening study is good enough that this first due diligence process is all that is needed. Another larger uncertainty for solar developers is to know if the solar project will be accepted by the utility on the electrical infrastructure (or electrical network). We refer to this phase as “utility’s application” in the graph above and developers refer to this phase as “queue submission”. This means that the solar project enters the interconnection queue of that region waiting for regulatory approval.

  • These queues are known as Independent Systems Operator (ISO) or Regional Transmission Organization (RTO).

During this period, the analysis of possible engineering and land factors is conducted to determine the feasibility of the project to be constructed and connected to the grid. This is the reason why the solar developer starts with an option, as not all solar projects are approved by the ISO/RTO.

How Likely Will My Illinois Solar Option Become a Solar Lease?

At the moment, about 20% of solar options become a solar lease and are built into a solar farm. Currently, the electrical infrastructure network is a big bottle neck. There are more applications of solar projects to get on transmission lines than available capacity. However, governments are aware of this situation and are working to ease it, in order to foster more solar development. This means that it will likely get resolved in the next few years. The problem of available capacity applies only to utility scale solar farm projects, which are typically greater than 5MW capacity.

Where Can a Landowner Get More Information About the Solar Lease / Option Period in Illinois?

LandGate assists landowners with determining the value of their land for a solar farm. We do this by taking into account the proximity of substations, transmission lines, and state incentives - each of which play a role in site control.

Am I Getting Paid During the Solar Option Period?

Yes. Solar payments start during the option period but are usually smaller compared to the solar payments during the lease or construction phase of the solar farm.

Step 3: Solar Lease Agreement in Illinois

Once the availability of grid capacity is confirmed, the solar project is moved to a “planned” phase. During this time, the developers will exercise the solar farm option agreement to become a solar farm lease agreement. Typically larger solar rent payments start at this time.

Step 4: Solar Farm Construction in Illinois

Solar payments are phased as the project progresses. It starts with small solar lease payments during the option phase. Then it increases during the solar lease phase, it increases again during the construction phase of the solar farm, and the largest solar payment occurs when the solar farm is active and generating electricity.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Solar Farm in Illinois?

Usually it will take between 1 to 2 years to build a utility scale solar farm. It takes less time to build a community solar farm since they are usually smaller in size.

Step 5: Active Solar Farm in Illinois

After the construction has been completed, the solar farm is now considered ‘active.’ For landowners, this phase is called ‘production,’ as it signifies that their land is currently producing energy for the electrical grid that it is interconnected with. The production phase lasts anywhere from 25 to 50 years depending on what was negotiated on the lease.

the current solar farm statuses in Illinois

What Can a Solar Farm Power In Illinois?

In Illinois, the average solar farm size is 50 acres, generating approximately 9 megawatts (MW) of electricity when operating under optimal conditions. This output has the potential to cater to the energy needs of around 1400 households as the typical electricity consumption of an average household in Illinois stands at 10,500 kilowatt-hours per year.

What is the Impact of the IRA and Other Factors in Illinois?

Illinois solar incentives have encouraged solar companies to develop more projects across the state. Additionally, favorable market conditions for electricity prices and power purchase agreements are encouraging investment into the solar sector in Illinois. Landowners and real estate agents should have an understanding of these incentives and market conditions to be prepared for potential offers for solar project deals.

  • Inflation Reduction Act: This bill passed in 2022 and became effective at the beginning of 2023 provides incentives to reduce renewable energy costs for organizations on a business, educational institution, and state level. More specifically, in Illinois, solar energy is eligible for a tax credit.

  • Illinois Power Agency: established in 2007 by the Illinois Power Agency Act, the IPA organizes and administers incentive programs to promote renewable energy and zero-carbon energy generation across Illinois. They are requiring large electric utility companies to source a minimum of 25% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. However, in 2022, only 13.5% of the electricity generated came from renewable sources. This was short of their 19% goal.

    • Since coming up short of this goal, Illinois is providing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). RECs are certificates that are created when a renewable energy generating facility produces electricity. RECs may be sold to the utility for meeting the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards.

  • Illinois Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs): SRECs in Illinois are financial incentives for solar energy system owners. They can be sold to electric utilities that need to meet their renewable energy targets, which provides additional revenue for solar projects.

The combination of an increase in LMP pricing plus a decline in PPA pricing has made solar energy an attractive option for electricity generation in Illinois. LMP is a pricing method used in electricity markets to determine the cost of electricity at specific locations (called ‘nodes’) within the electrical grid.

  • A PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) is a contract between a renewable energy developer (such as a solar company) and a power purchaser (such as a utility). Over the last three years, Illinois experienced a notable 4.5% reduction in PPA pricing and an average price LMP price increase of 40.3% (this is expected to increase by an additional 14.5% in 2024).

In the context of solar energy projects in Illinois, the relationship between LMP and PPA pricing lies in how the PPA sets the pricing terms for the electricity being sold. The fixed price in the PPA provides certainty to the solar developer about the revenue they will receive for the electricity that they produce. Meanwhile, the LMP serves as the market price for electricity at a specific node. When the LMP at a particular node in the grid is higher than the contract price specified in the PPA, it benefits the solar company, as they will receive the contract price and sell the electricity at a higher market price (increasing their revenues). This combination has aided in the rise of solar projects in Illinois.

Commercial, Community, & Behind-the-Meter Illinois Solar Farms

Typically, landowners and land professionals think of solar farms as huge plots of land covered in solar panels out in the middle of nowhere. However, this usually is not the case! In Illinois, solar farms typically average 50 acres, allowing about 9MW of electricity to be produced under ideal conditions.

  • Even though Illinois is not known to be the sunniest place in the US, solar irradiance only plays a small role in what’s needed for solar projects to be developed. Solar incentives in Illinois have played a more significant role in the increase of solar installation across the state.

Commercial solar projects are the commonly largest energy projects being about 40+ acres of land. These solar farms usually feed their energy into the grid to the surrounding area. Realistically these solar farms can be any size as it depends on the capacity available within the grid. Community solar farms in Illinois serve energy customers directly within the same area or community. These solar farms tend to be smaller in size in relation to acreage and megawatts. Community solar is different from residential solar as residential solar panels are found on top of roof tops. Community solar projects can be larger, it just depends on the location. Commercial, residential, and industrial solar farms are all considered to be behind-the-meter solar farms. Behind-the-meter means that they are intended to generate power primarily for on-site consumption rather than selling it to the grid. Community solar and utility scale solar farms generate energy that is utilized in the grid to send it to all consumers a part of that grid. This means that they are front-of-the-meter solar farms.

types of solar farms currently in Illinois

Discover Land’s Value For Solar Development & Leasing in Illinois

The solar energy industries within Illinois are growing to achieve energy goals for clean energy development. This makes it easier for landowners and real estate agents to participate in solar development deals. Landowners in Illinois can receive a free solar leasing estimate by identifying and claiming ownership of their parcel on our map.

Realtors can assist their clients in learning about their property’s potential for solar energy by using LandGate. Land professionals can utilize LandGate’s data and analytics to provide their clients with information about their resource’s potential.


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