- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

URBANA, Ill. (AP) - Some professors at the University of Illinois have cautioned that 55 acres of land being set aside for the institution’s second solar farm should instead be preserved for agricultural work or research.

The proposed site of the new solar project is a few miles south of the Urbana campus in the village of Savoy, The News-Gazette reported . Scott Willenbrock, a physics professor who recently served as a provost’s fellow for sustainability, said the project will boost campus solar generation to tie or exceed production at the University of California-Davis.

“No one else is close,” Willenbrock said. “That’s quite an achievement.”

Willenbrock told the Academic Senate on Monday that the project will help the campus meet its goal of generating 5 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The university aims to generate 25,000 megawatt hours of energy per year through solar as part of the Illinois Climate Action Plain. Its current solar farm provides 7,000 megawatt hours a year, which is about 2 percent of campus energy use.

College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences officials involved in the selection of the site said the land was being used for crop production.



But Richard Gates, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said the project will eliminate valuable flat land that’s used for research.

“That flat land is not corn land. It is research land. It is absolutely irreplaceable,” Gates said without specifying the type of research that is conducted there. “What we are doing is categorically and slowly removing research facilities from our institutions, and I’m not sure in the rush to be green that gets recognized.”

Animal science Professor Matthew Wheeler said he supports the push for solar power generation, but that he’s concerned about the loss of farmland.

“You put concrete on prime farmland, it’s gone forever,” Wheeler said. “We’re not making new arable land.”

Active research areas were avoided when selecting the project’s location, officials said.

“It is not fair to say we are lessening our ability to engage in research,” Willenbrock said.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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