WARSAW — The topic of commercial solar energy system farms was heavily discussed during the meeting of the Kosciusko County Area Planning Commission held Wednesday, April 3. A public hearing was held on the topic and proposed ordinance changes were presented, but no formal recommendation was made.
Dan Richard, area planning director, explained that the issue was brought to the APC by the county commissioners after the subject was brought up at a recent meeting. The commissioners did approve a 90-day moratorium on commercial solar energy system farms that is in effect until June 16.
The proposed ordinance changes define a commercial solar energy system farm as a solar energy system facility and all associated components whose primary purpose is to collect, store, convert and distribute energy to utility companies. The proposed changes only allow a commercial solar energy system farm in a heavy industrial zone if an exception is received. If the exception is granted, there are 14 pages of guidelines to be followed, which includes sections on setbacks, waste management and decommissioning plans.
“We’d be foolish to think that alternative energy systems are not going to be a thing we have to contend with in the future, be it solar, wind, nuclear,” said Richard. “I think what we’re looking at is a short-term type of ordinance to cover what we’re seeing is potentially coming into Kosciusko County.”
Since the meeting was public, everyone in attendance was given a chance to share their opinion of the matter.
Lynn Studebaker, who lives in Jackson Township near Sidney, stated she was in favor of the proposed changes. She stated that the United States only uses 2 percent of solar energy and discussed its harmful effect on local wildlife. “This is not something that’s agricultural … people don’t want to live by it, I don’t want to live by it.”
Mike Long, Kosciusko County council member, shared that he was in favor of an ordinance related to solar energy systems but did not agree with all the proposed guidelines. “The way this is written today, it’s going to scare off a company or limit that from happening,” said Long. “I think that there are a few issues that need to be addressed. We do need some kind of solar ordinance on the books, but I feel that this is a little bit aggressive at this time.”
Bob Bishop, of Leesburg, was one of the farmers approached by two companies to establish a solar energy farm in excess of 1,000 acres. Bishop shared that he believed the possibility is currently off the table because no farmers were willing to sign an agreement with the companies, despite a large amount of money being offered. He agreed with Long’s opinion that the proposed guidelines were too harsh. “I don’t think that it’s fair to our county or our residents — whether you live in town or you live in the country as I do — to say that you can only do this and this with your property,” said Bishop.
The APC did not come up with a formal recommendation regarding the proposed ordinance changes and approved delaying the issue so that the commissioners can move forward based on the input received or the APC can gather more information and possibly make revisions.
The APC also discussed updating their fees. All of the filing fees collected go toward the legal advertisement of the request. According to Matt Sandy, assistant planning director, the APC is around $30 short on every advertisement made. The remaining cost of the advertisement is paid out of the general fund.
Sandy presented a list of what Kosciusko County charges for filing fees compared to Whitley, Steuben, Elkhart, Fulton and Marshall counties. In all of the categories, Kosciusko County’s fees were lower than or equal to the other counties. The APC agreed to come up with proposed fee changes for the next meeting.