Panel favors solar park rules

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The Montgomery County Plan Commission gave a favorable recommendation to solar park regulations and changes to the make-up of the commission.

The commission voted 7-0 Wednesday in support of a new section on solar parks in the county’s zoning code and fees for solar energy systems and permits. The revisions to the commission’s membership affect the roles of the county surveyor and extension educator.

Both proposals now head to the Board of Commissioners for final approval.

The new zoning rules would regulate the height and location of future solar parks, limiting them to agricultural and industrial districts. Ground-mounted solar panels or arrays cannot be taller than 20 ft. and must be surrounded by a security fence, according to the proposed regulations.

The ground-mounted panels would have to sit at least 30 ft. from any property line and a minimum of 200 ft. from the property line of an adjacent house.

An amendment proposed by plan commissioner Steve Loy applies the 200 ft. setback if an agriculture-zoned single-family dwelling is within 500 ft. of the solar park.

Existing solar parks and solar devices used by homes or businesses are exempt from the regulations.

The regulations drew the support of renewable energy advocates.

“I’ve met personally with almost all of the regulated utilities in the state of Indiana, almost all of the developers in the state of Indiana, and I really appreciate what you’re getting done here today,” Steve Eberly, executive director of Hoosiers for Renewables, said in a public hearing before the vote.

A recent state law is behind the changes to the structure of the commission. The surveyor and a county extension educator are among seven voting members of the board.

Under the changes, the surveyor can designate a resident to serve in his place and the extension educator must live in the county. The current educator, Ashley Adair, is not a Montgomery County resident.

Adair can serve until October 2021, when the Purdue Extension board has to select a county resident with an agricultural interest for the commission. By law, the Board of Commissioners must re-appoint Adair for the extended term this fall.

Plan commissioner John Frey expressed support for Adair, who offered to provide the board with information from Purdue about appointing extension educators.

“We want to keep her as long as we can,” he said.

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