A bill that would set state standards for commercial wind and solar farms aims to strike a balance between local control and Indiana’s need for renewable energy, the measure’s co-author said.
Debate over House Bill 1381, co-written by State Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica) was among the topics discussed Saturday at a virtual legislative roundtable sponsored by the Crawfordsville/Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
The bill proposes default rules for developers on the installation and siting of wind turbines and solar panels, and is intended to stop counties from banning development of renewable energy projects.
The House of Representatives passed the bill last week with a 58-38 vote. It now moves on to the Senate.
Supporters of the regulations say generating more renewable energy is important for remaining competitive in the utility markets. Local governments argue the bill threatens the state’s “home rule” act, which gives counties, cities and towns the power to govern themselves as they please.
The bill requires developers and counties to have a “tremendous amount of negotiation” over projects, Negele said. Counties wouldn’t lose their authority to deny a project.
Negele successfully introduced amendments exempting projects pending or approved as of July 1, 2021 and adding stricter setback requirements for wind turbines.
“What we’re trying to do is craft legislation that is respectful of home rule but doesn’t allow moratoriums,” said Negele, who sits on the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee.
The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners was expected Monday to pass a resolution expressing opposition to the bill. Similar resolutions have been adopted in other counties.
“It’s all about the home rule. That’s the issue with this,” Board of Commissioners President John Frey said during a question-and-answer period with the lawmakers.
The General Assembly is halfway through the budget-year session in Indianapolis. The proposed budget includes a change in funding for career and technical education classes.
Funding would be increased for “high value” programs such as welding or other in-demand trades, while cosmetology and other programs with “less than moderate value” would see their funding eliminated.
The funding is based on average wages and worker demand in the industries.
Statewide, more than 62,000 students are enrolled in “high value” CTE classes this school year, compared to the 16,460 students participating in “less than moderate value” programs, according to the Indiana Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, which oversees CTE funding.
Fewer “less than moderate value” classes are offered in schools. Critics of the proposal say students will miss out on career opportunities if a program loses funding.
West Central Indiana Career & Technical Education Director Sara Nicodemus said she will wait to comment on the proposal, but added the four-district cooperative “does find value in all CTE programs/classes so any decrease in funding would be disappointing.”
State Rep. Tim Brown
(R-Crawfordsville), chair of the budget-writing House Ways & Means Committee, said local school districts could still choose to offer the lower-demand programs.
“They’re just not getting reimbursed from the state for these students in these classes,” Brown said.
A Senate bill co-sponsored by Crawfordsville Republican Phil Boots seeks to end state oversight of wetlands. Senate Bill 389 would overturn the law requiring a permit to build in a state-regulated wetland.
The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 1 with a 29-19 vote and was sent on to the House.
Indiana is one of eight states to regulate wetlands. A small percentage of the state’s remaining wetlands are regulated by the federal government. The bill does not apply to the discharging of dredged or filled material under the federal Clean Water Act.
Boots said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has “overstepped their authority” and has been a “little more violent in their enforcement of wetland restrictions than some people believe they should be.”
The bill doesn’t affect any permits pending before July 1.
“The players are coming together and trying to work a solution out, so we will see what the final result is in April,” Boots said, “but presently I wouldn’t get all that too concerned about where we’re going with this. It is a work in progress.”
Friends of Sugar Creek and the Hoosier Environmental Council are among advocacy groups coming out against the bill.
In a recent letter to the editor in the Journal Review, the Friends of Sugar Creek Board of Directors said removing the state regulation would put “vital ecological resources at the mercy of industrial, commercial and residential developers.”