WARSAW — The topic of commercial solar energy system farms continued this month at the Kosciusko County Area Planning Commission meeting held Wednesday, May 1.
Kosciusko County commissioners previously approved a 90-day moratorium on solar energy farms after the issue was raised at a commissioners meeting in February. The moratorium 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.
Kosciusko commissioners requested a review and recommendation from the APC on the proposed ordinance amendment.
Several local residents spoke at the meeting with the general consensus being that, although not in favor of large commercial solar farms, they see the proposed ordinance as too restrictive.
Mike Long, Warsaw, offered suggestions for changes he believes should be included in a rewrite of the proposed ordinance, such as limiting solar operations to 160 acres, implementing green screening for aesthetic purposes and establishing a study committee.
Long feels a committee should be formed, which could include commissioners, council members, planning office and board, county legal, experts of solar, outside sources, county utilities, landowners who would be affected and any department heads within the county who would be affected. He suggested the committee could meet over the course of a year to study and review solar farms in order to come up with a better understanding of the operation.
“I would just like to see basically the proposed ordinance toned down a little bit,” Long said.
Bob Bishop, Leesburg, commended the APC for the effort they have put into the proposed ordinance, adding, “I’m not against the ordinance. I think it’s a little extreme.”
“I’m not in favor of large commercial solar farms,” said Gabe Ayers, Clunette. “Technology is changing so fast today, we don’t know if this is going to be the most efficient form of energy going forward.”
Despite this, Ayers cautioned he does not want to be left with the message that the government tells a landowner how he or she can use their property.
“An option might be that we could recommend that this ordinance be passed by the commissioners with the proviso that there’s going to be a committee and that the outcome of that committee can change this ordinance. If we do nothing, we open ourselves to the possibility that we get something nobody wants,” said APC Chairman Lee Harman.
A motion was made and approved to recommend to the Kosciusko commissioners that the proposed ordinance be approved as written with the recommendation that commissioners consider a study committee to potentially be established for further analysis of commercial solar farms.
Matt Sandy, assistant planning director, presented a proposed updated fee list. It was previously discussed that Kosciusko County’s fees were lower than or equal to fees charged in Whitley, Steuben, Elkhart, Fulton and Marshall counties. The APC agreed that Sandy will advertise the proposed fees and return at the next meeting with the results of that advertising.
- A petition for a preliminary plat approval was submitted by Charles Haffner. This was approved as presented.
- Two final plat approvals were accepted.
- Dan Richard, area planning director, told APC members that a new planning commission attorney is needed. Richard said there are currently three candidates. The APC approved a motion allowing Richard to make that selection.