Government

Commissioners table solar changes

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After conducting a public hearing Monday, Montgomery County Commissioners tabled a proposed change to the county zoning ordinance concerning solar farm setbacks.

The county planning commission presented the changes to commissioners with a favorable recommendation. However, after hearing interested persons speak in favor of and opposing the changes, commissioners decided it was best to get more information before making a determination.

Commissioner John Frey sits on the county planning commission. He said the commission first started considering the changes to the county solar farms section of the zoning ordinance nearly six months ago. The changes to the setbacks were unanimously approved by the planning commission.

The proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance dealt strictly with setbacks of solar panels from property lines. The distance from all property lines would be a minimum of 100 feet. If there is a residence, the setback would move to 200 feet, however the setback would be moved to 500 feet from the closest exterior wall of a non-participating resident.

Tenaska Solar Ventures, LLC has proposed the Cold Spring Solar Project in southwest Montgomery County.  Earlier this month the solar company asked the county council for a tax abatement, but was denied. The project has approximately 5,000 acres under contract with Montgomery County landowners, and it reaches into northwest Putnam County.

Tenaska Project Development Director Jarrod Pitts presented information to commissioners that showed studies by Purdue and Indiana universities as well as state government regulations show the proposed county changes exceed what is normal in Indiana.

All three reports stated the satisfactory property line setback is 50 feet for participating residences. For non-participating residence, setbacks state legislatures recommend is 250 feet with both Purdue and IU stating 200 and 150 feet, respectively.

“If you adopt these changes it will have serious and negative impact on our project being proposed,” Pitts said. “The proposed setbacks are excessive compared to other communities.”

Pitts believes there is no justification for the larger setbacks and that adoption would be financially harmful to landowners. He also stated changing the ordinance would “send a bad message to future businesses.”

Pitts reminded commissioners the estimated tax benefit to the county is $40 million over 30 years and income to landowners is estimated $70 million over the same time period.

Waveland resident David Harbison spoke against the proposed setbacks. He has signed a contract with Tenaska. He said he did a lot of research and liked what he found.

“When I looked into this project, I saw many wins for the property owners,” Harbison said.

Ladoga area business owner and farmer, Matt Allen, spoke in favor of the changes. He admits his reasoning was emotional because he did not want to see solar panels directly in front of his home.

“I am for solar and property rights are important,” Allen said. “I also believe what you are proposing is an extreme compromise. I am opposed to bringing solar panels to my doorstep.”

Residents Kylee Simpson and Penny Anglin also asked commissioners to approve the proposed ordinance changes.

After Frey closed the public meeting each commissioner spoke. Dan Guard said he was in favor of tabling the vote to gather more information. Jim Fulwider seconded the motion and it passed 2-1 with Frey casting the no vote.

County attorney Dan Taylor said commissioners can move the agenda item to their next meeting scheduled on July 11.

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved changes to the way the Planning Commission conducts meetings.

• Approved the specifications to County EMS proposals.

• Approved the LPA contract with HWC Engineering for construction inspections services for a signage project on county roads.

• Adopted on final reading an ordinance creating the Drug Free Montgomery County Coalition Grant Fund.

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