Solar parks could be regulated under zoning

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Solar parks would be regulated in Montgomery County under a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance.

The new chapter, which is the third potential addition to the year-old zoning code, seeks to restrict the location and height of ground-mounted solar panels and arrays. Fees would also be set for permits to build, operate or maintain a solar energy system.

“Over the past several years, Montgomery County has had numerous solar companies inquire about … locating facilities,” said Marc Bonwell, county zoning administrator. “This regulation sets standards and inserts solar energy into the use classification of the zoning code for this type of energy and protects the public health, welfare and safety of Montgomery County residents.”

The county enacted zoning last June. In August, the ordinance was updated to regulate business development within a half-mile of the Crawfordsville city limits. Regulations on confined feeding operations were added in January.

The proposed rules for sun-powered energy come as Crawfordsville emerges as the “solar capital” of the state. Indiana Municipal Power Agency was scheduled to break ground this year on a $15 million facility at C.R. 150S and C.R. 250E, what will become the largest solar park statewide.

Crawfordsville’s five solar parks will produce more than 28 megawatts of energy, the largest output in Indiana, according to IMPA. The company has also built solar parks in Darlington and Waynetown.

While the parks don’t have to make changes if the rules are adopted, additions to existing facilities would be regulated, Bonwell said. Privately used solar devices that are part of the structure of a home or business, or in the yard, are also exempt.

New solar operations would be limited to agricultural and industrial zoning districts. Other rules include property setbacks, which become stricter if the ground-mounted panels are adjacent to a house.

Solar energy regulations aren’t the only proposed changes to the zoning ordinance. Another amendment tweaks the make-up of the Plan Commission.

The commission rules on rezoning requests and new residential subdivisions, among other matters. Five citizen members are appointed by the Board of Commissioners to serve. The board also includes a county commissioner, a county council member, the county surveyor and a county extension educator.

Under the proposed changes, the surveyor could designate a Montgomery County resident to serve in his place if needed. The extension educator would also have to live in the county in order to align the commission with recent legislative changes, Bonwell said.

If the extension educator lives elsewhere, they may serve on the commission until Oct. 1, 2021, after which the extension board selects a county resident who is a “property owner with agricultural interest,” the amendment reads.

The non-resident educator could remain on the commission in a non-voting role, according to the proposal.

A public hearing on the amendments has been set for 4 p.m. Wednesday at the City Council Chambers, in following social distancing guidelines. The changes require final approval from the Board of Commissioners.

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