Madison County Planning Commission approves six-month solar farm moratorium
ANDERSON — The Madison County Planning Commission has agreed to extend the moratorium on development of a large-scale solar farm for six months.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday to accept the change voted on by the Madison County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 25 to reduce the moratorium from one year to six months.
The Planning Commission in November voted to extend the moratorium for one year to allow Planning Director Brad Newman sufficient time to draft a new solar energy ordinance for Madison County.
But the county commissioners voted to reduce the extension to six months to July 7.
The moratorium was put in place for the county to consider changes to the solar energy ordinance adopted by Madison County in 2017.
Planning Commission members had three options: to accept the change in the length of the extension, modify the extension and return it to the commissioners or take no action by which it would have gone into effect for six months after 45 days.
Newman explained that if the Planning Commission modified the moratorium extension or took no action it could open a disputed window of two or eight days for another solar farm application to be submitted under the existing ordinance.
Attorney Jeff Graham indicated the commissioners could be willing to schedule a special meeting before Jan. 1 if the Planning Commission rejected the six-month extension.
County Surveyor Tom Shepherd made a motion to extend the moratorium for one year, but it failed to get the necessary five votes for adoption.
Shepherd and several Planning Commission members were uncertain of why the commissioners reduced the time to six months.
Member Cory Bohlander said he was concerned about the opening of a window for another application to be filed.
“Are we confident the commissioners will schedule a special meeting?” he asked. “I liked our original recommendation, but I’m not confident the commissioners will have another meeting.
“I don’t want to leave the county vulnerable,” Bohlander said.
David Kane asked Newman how far along in the process was he in recommending a new solar energy ordinance for the county.
Newman said he has collected 90% of the data in the form of ordinances approved in other Indiana counties and other states.
He hopes to have a draft ordinance completed by April to present to the Planning Commission for adoption by July 1.
Kane said an additional extension could be requested if necessary.
Alexandria resident Debbie Spooner said residents didn’t want a window open for another application to be submitted.
Lee Walls, an opponent of the proposed Lone Oak Solar Energy Center in northern Madison County, encouraged the acceptance of the six-month extension.
“We can all agree the original ordinance was not a good one,” he said. “We want to see something done.”
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 near Elwood.
The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the special use with the requirement that the setback for the placement of the solar panels had to be 500 feet from the property line of a nonparticipating property owner.