GOSHEN — City residents will have to a wait a few weeks to find out if a new solar energy-generation facility could be headed to the city’s north side.
During their meeting Tuesday evening, Goshen City Council members voted to table a lease agreement with Toledo, Ohio-based Solscient Energy LLC, involving approximately 54,400 square feet of city-owned property located at 1000 W. Wilden Ave.
Central to the lease agreement is the proposal by Solscient to use the property as the site of a new 1,007-panel solar energy generation system for the purposes of generating electricity for sale to Northern Indiana Public Service Company under NIPSCO’s Rate 665 Feed-In-Tariff program.
Several issues were raised by council members while discussing the proposal Tuesday, one of which involved concerns about the city leasing the property to a private, for-profit company, but not requiring that company to pay property taxes, as the land would still be owned by the city and thus be tax exempt.
Along those lines, Councilman Adam Scharf suggested one solution might be to sell the property to the company, rather than lease it, and thus eliminate the issue of the city's tax exempt status. Other suggestions for tackling the property tax issue included having the county waive the city’s tax exempt status for that portion of property for the length of the lease agreement, or possibly increasing the yearly lease fee in order to make up for the lost property taxes at the site.
Scharf also took issue with the fact that such large solar projects are currently not legally available to the general public without getting certain approvals and variances through the planning and zoning process. Such rules do not apply to city-owned land. He then suggested the council look into the possibility of having those rules amended to allow for greater accessibility to such projects by Goshen residents.
Also raised as a question Tuesday was whether the city should forgo the contract with Solscient altogether and look into possibly creating its own solar energy-generation facility.
Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who has long been a strong proponent of increasing Goshen’s green-energy footprint, said he would love to see such a project happen, though he is unsure at this point where the money for such a project would come from.
Given that issue, Stutsman urged the council to consider moving forward with the Solscient project as a stepping stone to begin boosting Goshen’s green footprint, and then look at the possibility of establishing the city’s own solar facility sometime in the near future.
“I just don’t know where we come up with the money to install this ourselves with the other projects that we have on our list,” Stutsman said of the suggestion. “I would love to do that. And if there’s a good idea from the council on how to get the money I’d be all over it.
“My main goal is, I want to see green energy produced in Goshen, which is better for our environment,” he added. “If the city of Goshen can find a way to tap into that so that we’re seeing some cost savings in our utilities, that’s even better. But I guess I don’t know the path to get there.”
Given the many questions and concerns raised regarding the proposal Tuesday, the council ultimately voted to table the request until the board’s upcoming June 6 meeting in order to allow for some additional research and discussion on the matter before a final decision is made.