Photo by Laura Ann Arnold
Lone Oak Solar Farm Site Plan
ANDERSON – Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday approved a special use and two variances that will allow a controversial solar farm to move forward.
However, it’s unknown whether the petitioner, Chicago-based Invenergy, will go through with the proposed 850-acre Lone Oak Solar Energy Center because of several conditions placed on the project.
“Practically speaking, this is far from the end of the game,” said the BZA’s attorney, Jeff Graham. “There’s a lot of hoops for the petitioners to jump through before they can start building.”
Officials from Invenergy did not return calls for comment.
In addition to attorneys for Invenergy and the BZA, residents who opposed the project also were represented by lawyers at the vote.
The BZA voted 3-1 on a special use for the solar farm.
The approved measure requires a 500-foot setback from non-participating residential structures and 200 feet from property lines. However, an agreed waiver between Lone Oak and each nonparticipating resident would make possible a setback of 250 feet from a residential structure and/or a property line setback of 100 feet.
Board member Don Pine voted against the variance because though Invenergy officials initially said this would be the only solar farm in the county, he believed they may request an expansion, Graham said.
“Three (BZA members) allowed the project to expand slightly to make up for the setback condition they put on the solar farm people,” he said.
The BZA also unanimously approved two variances, one a construction start date extension and the other setting the face amount for a decommissioning bond.
Normally, projects must begin within three years of approval, Graham said. However, the BZA, at Invenergy’s request, will allow construction to start no later than Dec. 31, 2023.
Invenergy estimated the cost for decommissioning the solar farm once it no longer is usable would be more than $5.6 million, minus the estimated salvage value of $1.7 million, Graham said. The company proposed a bond set at the salvage value, he said, but the BZA insisted that it be for the entire amount.
“That was a major move,” he said. “Invenergy had provided a list of conditions what they were willing to do. It’s possible those restrictions would be restrictive enough that the petitioners may not proceed.”
Invenergy also must obtain additional bonds, including one for potential damage to drains and another for potential damage to roads, Graham said. The amounts for those bonds will be set by the Drainage Board and the Transportation Board, he said.