Jay Co. (IN) Plan Commission send wind, solar ordinances back to Commissioners

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   December 14, 2019  /   Posted in solar, wind  /   No Comments

Amendments rejected by Jay County Plan Commission sending proposed wind, solar ordinances back to commissioners

Ray Cooney, Editor, (Portland) Commercial Review
Friday, December 13, 2019 5:26 PM

Jay County Commissioners suggested an amendment to a proposed wind farm ordinance update.

Jay County Plan Commission rejected it.

On a 3-2 vote Thursday, plan commission disapproved amendments that would have reduced some of the new setbacks for wind farms and solar farms.

By state statute, the issue now heads back to county commissioners. As the county’s elected legislative body, commissioners have 45 days to vote again to approve the ordinance with their suggested amendments. If they do not act within 45 days, the ordinance will go into effect as originally presented by plan commission. (Commissioners can also then ask plan commission to take another look at the ordinance for possible changes.)

Thursday’s decision by plan commission hinged entirely on the commissioners’ suggestion that the setback for wind turbines from residential dwellings of non-participating landowners be reduced to 1,500 feet from 1,640 feet. Plan commission had originally approved the 1,500-foot setback but modified it following a public hearing in September. The current setback is 1,000 feet.

The move to 1,640 feet came after Sheila Birsfield, who is part of a local group that opposed Bitter Ridge Wind Farm, noted that recommendations from wind turbine producer Vestas call for employees to be 1,640 feet away under emergency conditions. (An example of an “emergency condition” is a turbine’s rotor being on fire.) She and other residents asked plan commission to increase the proposed setback to 1,640 feet based on that recommendation.

Chad Aker, who represents Jay County Commissioners on the plan commission, explained Thursday that Vestas has since noted that 1,640 feet is for emergencies and was never intended as a setback.

“This is a temporary clearance and not a permanent setback requirement,” Aker read from a letter from the company.

Plan commission members Tom Laux and Steve Ford expressed misgivings.

Laux had already voted against the 1,640-foot setback in September, saying he thought it should be extended even further.

Ford on Thursday expressed a desire to protect more densely populated areas.

“When you start increasing those setbacks, you keep them out of more populated areas,” said Ford, adding that the 1,640-foot setback was part of a process of compromise.

On the other hand, plan commission member Matt Minnich expressed support for moving forward with commissioners’ suggested amendments, noting that the property line setback — 1.5 times the total height of the turbine — is more restrictive than that for residential dwellings. (Turbines that have been or are being erected in Jay County are about 500 feet tall.)

Plan commission president Scott Hilfiker also said he had no issue with the commissioners suggested amendment.

In addition to the amendment regarding wind turbine setbacks, commissioners also had suggested amendments to solar farm setbacks from property lines to 25 feet from the original 150 and for access driveways to property lines to 50 feet from the original 300.

Those suggestions received no comment from plan commission.

When the commissioners’ amendments as a whole came to a vote, Michelle Penrod, Laux and Ford were against while Minnich and Aker were in favor. By rule, Hilfiker only votes in case of a tie. Plan commission members Ted Champ, Brad Daniels and Ron Laux were absent.

Following the vote, Ford expressed his feeling that the entire process could have been handled better by developers. He suggested that they should have a presence in the county and make plans known to the community prior to taking steps such as acquiring leases or easements.

Penrod later said her biggest concern is safety.

The process of reviewing the wind farm ordinance has been ongoing since summer 2018 when commissioners, on the suggestion of plan commission, placed a three-year moratorium on new wind farms in the county after vocal opposition from some residents to Scout Clean Energy’s Bitter Ridge Wind Farm, which is scheduled to go into operation next year. A study committee spent months reviewing the wind farm ordinance and creating a new ordinance to regulate solar farms before presenting them to plan commission.

Company claims Montgomery Co. (IN) reneged on wind farm

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   December 13, 2019  /   Posted in wind  /   No Comments

Company claims Montgomery County reneged on 2013 economic development agreement to build a wind farm in two northern townships

Nick Hedrick, (Crawfordsville) Journal Review
Wednesday, December 11, 2019 6:27 PM

The company accusing Montgomery County in federal court of attempting to kill a planned wind farm could consider asking for the project’s 10-year tax abatement to be restored, a county councilman said Tuesday.

Sugar Creek Wind LLC sued the county and the board of commissioners last week, claiming the county reneged on a 2013 economic development agreement to build a wind farm in two northern townships.

After millions of dollars were spent developing the project, the suit claims, the county revoked the project’s property tax incentives, adopted rules making a building permit impossible and then rushed to pass a zoning ordinance when the company threatened to sue.

The county disputes Sugar Creek Wind’s complaints and said it would “vigorously defend” the suit.

With the company arguing the project would suffer “devastating financial consequences” without the tax abatement, councilman Mark Davidson said Sugar Creek Wind representatives could decide to request another economic agreement.

“The one that they had, it was written as time was of the essence and it has been almost 10 years,” Davidson said during the council’s regular meeting.

An attorney representing Sugar Creek Wind, Offer Korin, didn’t immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment on the company’s plans. The suit claims the county has “not cooperated” with efforts to enter into new agreements.

Council members rescinded the project’s economic development agreement in February, a move the company says came after the county’s “political stance” on the development shifted.

The council is directly mentioned three times in the 34-page suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.

Council attorney Rob Reimondo, who reviewed the complaint with the county’s legal representative, told members he expects the fiscal body to become a party to the case as evidence is gathered.

He said the case likely would be moved to state court and both sides may attempt to restart settlement talks before the judge rules. Mediations first began in August but are currently stalled, according to the suit.

“I can see another round of mediations on down the road before a final trial is set,” Reimondo said.

Korin didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the company would be interested in more talks.

Madison Co. (IN) officials recommend one-year extension of solar moratorium

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   November 13, 2019  /   Posted in Indiana Municipal Power Agency (IMPA), solar  /   No Comments

County commission recommends one-year extension on solar energy moratorium

Ken de la BastideThe Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON – The moratorium on the development of a large-scale solar energy facility in Madison County could be extended until 2021.

The Madison County Planning Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to recommend to the county’s Board of Commissioners to extend the moratorium for one year.

Plan Commission member Tom Shepherd said the moratorium should be extended for a year instead of six months.

“We can change it at any time,” he said. “By extending it for a year we don’t have to come back for extension after extension.”

The current moratorium is scheduled to expire in January. It went into effect in July.

If approved by the county commissioners, the moratorium would run through Jan. 5, 2021.

Brad Newman, director of the Planning Commission, is reviewing the county’s solar energy ordinance that was adopted in 2017.

“It’s not feasible to have the review done by January,” Newman said. “I’m comfortable with the one-year extension.”

The goal is to have the review of the ordinance completed by the end of March with public hearings in April, Newman said.

David Kane, a member of the Planning Commission, asked why the moratorium only applied to solar energy facilities that were greater than 50 acres.

Newman said the Indiana Municipal Power Agency has developed smaller solar energy facilities in Anderson and Frankton.

“We didn’t want to exclude their energy development,” he said.

The moratorium was put in place for the county to consider changes to the 2017 ordinance.

“I have started collecting data and putting it into a useable format,” Newman previously said. “I have looked at 75 different ordinances.”

Newman said he has reviewed 27 solar energy ordinances adopted in Indiana counties and 18 from the state of Illinois.

“I want to make sure and changes will hold up in court,” he said. “I also want any revision to deal with each of the problems raised considering the current ordinance.”

The moratorium was put in place after the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special use for the proposed $110 million, 120-megawatt Lone Oak Solar Energy Center on 850 acres in northern Madison County.

The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the special use with the requirement that the setback for the solar panels had to be 500 feet from the property line of a nonparticipating property owner.

The BZA approved a second special use for the project to include an additional 350 acres.

At the time of the approval, the project’s opponents raised concerns about a decline in property values and were seeking a guarantee, which could not be imposed because the county’s solar energy ordinance didn’t include the provision.

The Madison County Council denied a requested 10-year tax abatement for the Lone Oak project. Invenergy officials said the project is being delayed because of the denial of the tax abatement.

Newman said in July the entire ordinance will be reviewed including setbacks from nonparticipating property owners, the impact on property values and the possible leaching of hazardous materials.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

From Corn To Solar: For Some Farmers, There’s ‘More Money In Producing Electrons’

Posted by Laura Arnold  /   October 18, 2019  /   Posted in Uncategorized  /   No Comments

From Corn To Solar: For Some Farmers, There's 'More Money In Producing Electrons'

A field of solar panels in Indiana.

Workers prepare eight acres of a what would have been a corn field for a solar farm that is set to be operational by the end of 2019 in Kentland, IN. (Brock Turner, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hoosier farmers are making less money per acre than they have in years, but some are trading corn and soybeans for solar panels. Yet, the incentives for such projects vary greatly from state to state, and that makes it difficult for landowners to know what the policies to their specific locality are.

Among those farmers is Mark Simons. He’s been farming for 44 years, and like most midwestern farmers, the majority of his nearly 1,000 acres are corn and soybeans. Yet, he’s in the process of adding another crop into his operation—one that also relies on the weather.

“I think the word solar farm capsulizes it,” he says. “The electrons produced out there are just another crop. Instead of producing carbohydrates, we’re producing clean, renewable energy that goes on for a long time. The solar project out there can be producing power for forty years.”

Simons says he’ll have things up, running, and delivering electricity to the grid before the end of the year. It’s a sizeable investment, but he believes the payout in the long run will be more than worth it.

“It’s a multiple million-dollar investment in roughly eight acres,” Simons says.

He plans to install 4,500 modules, and is joining a growing number of farmers across the country who are hoping to diversify their revenue streams. 

A box of solar panels waiting to be installed in a field in Indiana.
Farmers across the state are looking for ways to boost their bottom lines and some, like this farm in Kentland, Ind., are turning to solar. (Brock Turnery, WFIU/WTIU News)

While there isn’t a single agency that keeps an exact count of the number of panels or farmers, experts say the number has increased significantly since the cost of solar panels decreased about ten years ago. That cost decrease made the math work for Simons.

“I’ve just got to compare the cost and the revenue. After the 15-year PPA [Power Purchase Agreement] is up, I’ll be 80 then. Hopefully my daughter will have it, and inherit it because the life time of it is 40-50 years.”

But as with most crops, producers are reliant upon a number of factors that determine the price they get. Simons says selling electricity back to the grid is filled with regulation that is elastic and changes over time. While his local electric providers are encouraging, Simons says it’s not that way in other parts of the state—and country.

Utilities, Regulators Hold Power To Solar Adoption And Production

“The utilities have a lot of power and a lot of money behind them,” he says. “They would like to see power production stay in their hands rather than making it more egalitarian.”

Simons adds, “The big money wants to maintain their control of the power system from generation through distribution.”

The end goal of utilities and electric providers is important to remember. While privately held producers and distributors are for-profit corporations, many providers in Indiana operate as Rural Electric Cooperatives. They serve a large portion of Hoosiers living in rural areas, and are non-profits. Their primary goal is to provide cheap power to less dense areas where the economics don’t make sense for private providers to operate.

Brian Anderson is the Director of Economic Development and Public Relations at the Wabash Valley Power Alliance—a nonprofit that provides electricity to individual member co-ops.  They’re the ones that are transmitting and generating the electricity that could be powering your home.

“When we do a deal [with private land owners], we are always looking at how does this stand up on its own. We don’t want to overpay for power,” he says.

Part of that includes closely monitoring a complicated matrix that includes user affordability, sustainability, and reliability.  

“We don’t want to overpay for power. We’re always thinking about that long-term price stability. Maybe not what’s in the best interest of one particular member, but the 330,000 members that are a part of our service.”

Anderson says rural population declines and changes in densities has an impact on the power supply and the presence of renewables.

A box of solar panels waiting to be installed in a field in Indiana.
Simons expects the entire operation to be fully functional by the beginning of 2020. (Brock Turner, WFIU/WTIU News)

In Face Of Incentive Cuts, Solar Energy Production Has Grown

Two years ago Indiana ended its net metering policy which incentivized solar energy production by providing solar customers the higher retail rate instead of a lower wholesale rate for excess energy they deliver back to the grid. Despite that policy shift, Anderson says he’s seen more people interested in solar.

“We’ve seen an uptick in interest from landowners in general looking for sustainable solutions and making some of those economics work.”

Despite that shift and declining prices of equipment, experts say it’s unlikely Indiana will return to net metering. They say it is important to craft durable policies that won’t change over time and will span across elections.

“We don’t have evidence yet as to what model is the best,” Sonya Carley, a Professor at Indiana University’s O’Neil School of Public and Environmental Affairs says. However, she believes states should still be cognizant of the policy changes they decide to adopt. “I do think it’s really important for states to think through their individual kinds of charges and what’s necessary and of value.”

Carley says despite changing state policy some companies are being mindful of where their electricity is coming from. “We’ve seen a proliferation of companies stepping up and saying ‘we will do 100 percent renewable energy or we will make sure we put solar panels on all of our warehouses.’ 

She says that’s even the case in states that have rolled back or been hesitant to adopt renewable energy incentives.

“In absence of strong policy leadership, we see companies actually stepping up,” she says. “There are leaders and laggards there will be some companies and some states that lag behind the others and in those cases, yes, it probably will happen it will just happen much later than those that are taking a leadership role.”

Carley says the cost of solar has decreased significantly in recent years and the technology has continued to improve.  

While Simons admits the policies in Illinois make it more economical, he’s still excited to get these eight acres in Indiana operational.

“If you’re producing electricity at a high enough rate your payback is much better on solar,” he says. “And it’s much better in Illinois because they have renewable energy credits to help defray the initial startup costs of a solar system,” he says “it’d be nice if Indiana [the state where all of his current project sits] had some of those incentives.” 

But Simons isn’t complaining too much. “There’s more money in producing electrons than in producing corn and soybeans at this time, particularly at this time,” he chuckles.


IndianaDG Note: Mark Simons is an IndianaDG business member.

 

Copyright 2013 IndianaDG