Solar energy in Indiana remains a contentious topic – Greensburg Daily News

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SOUTHERN INDIANA — The sun is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Its rays make life on earth possible, and they can also be used for energy, including in Indiana.

In October 2023, Canadian Solar announced the future establishment of an $800 million solar cell manufacturing facility in Jeffersonville at River Ridge Commerce Center.

This facility will manufacture 5 GW Solar PV cells for solar panels, and it’s expected to create around 1,200 jobs once it’s operational.

According to River Ridge Development Authority Executive Director Jerry Acy, they have executed a purchase agreement for the 80-acre site, and the hope is to close the sale of the land in April.

Outside of the manufacturing of solar panels, the use of them in large amounts has been a point of contention among residents.

In October, BrightNight, a renewable energy company, attempted to request a special use permit for a solar panel farm called the Flag Run Solar Project in rural north Clark County. This would potentially take up about 3,900 acres of farmland.

According to the company’s website, the project will feature 350-megawatts of renewable solar energy which is enough power for more than 70,000 homes. It states that it will create 200 jobs during construction, five to six long term careers once operational and generate more than $2.8 million in annual tax revenue.

BrightNight has stated that the land will still be used for agriculture during the life of the project including row crops and animal grazing.

The company also said that the panels can be readily recycled, and are emissions free, and do not produce or transfer any materials or chemicals into the soil.

Ultimately, the Clark County Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously denied their request, after dozens of residents asked questions and shared concerns about the farm and its potential impact.

Since then, residents continue to attend local county meetings, asking questions and providing statements during public comment sections about what they would like to see in terms of county solar farm regulations and requirements, and BrightNight appears continually interested in the potential solar farm project.

Soon, a public hearing will be held by the County Clark Plan Commission about updating the unified development ordinance.

Sandy Basham, who lives in the vicinity of the potential solar farm, provided examples during a Clark County Commissioners meeting on March 28 of other UDOs in Indiana counties of their solar farm regulations and ordinances.

She said Spencer County’s UDO has around 30 pages concerning solar farms. Clark County, which has a relatively larger population compared to Spencer County, give or take around 100,000 people, has around five pages dedicated to solar farms in the UDO.

Basham also pointed out similar situations with Kosciusko, Wabash and Jay counties which have smaller populations compared to Clark County, but more comprehensive solar ordinances.

She said the current UDO is not comprehensive enough to protect county residents who live in the vicinity of the solar farm, and argues that other counties have thicker, more stringent UDOs that restrict solar farms and their configurations.

She said residents have provided a list of 24 proposed changes to the UDO to planning and zoning, and that if she were to make a top 10 list of the important changes, about three and a half of those have been addressed so far.

“If we keep in mind that each one of those proposals that we asked for is in another county’s ordinance within the state, I don’t understand why we can’t have it in ours,” she said to the commissioners.

Senate Bill 411 passed during the 2022 state legislative session, and sets the default standards for wind and solar farms including height restrictions, ground cover, fencing, cables, glare, signal interference and sound level limitations. The county has been tweaking the current UDO to adhere to these new standards.

One area of solar farm guidelines is setbacks, which is how many feet of separation there is between the solar farm and another person’s property. SB 411 recommends starting setbacks at around 250 feet, while the current setback for Clark County is 150 feet.

“We’re not just protecting ourselves, but we’re protecting them too,” Basham said about the setbacks.

Other resident concerns include the potential decrease of their property value, noise issues, environmental impacts, fencing and wildlife. Basham and other residents have been told that the property value would decrease at a marginal 1% to 2%, although they are skeptical, and do have concerns about the look and aesthetics of the solar farm, although it isn’t their primary concern.

Residents have also called for and requested that BrightNight conduct environmental studies often to ensure that soil and water is unaffected by the development, although the company has stated previously that the solar farm would not be an issue in terms of environmental contaminants.

Basham said her and some other residents drove to Rushville to check out a large solar farm in the town, and she said they were impressed with its organization considering the solar farms are condensed into one area. She said she feels the solar farms in Clark County are more scattered.

“I really don’t think that we’re too far off,” Basham said about the requests that her and other residents have made.

Resident Christine Horsley also spoke at the commissioners meeting where she talked about a few concerns, including the potential possibility of storms destroying the solar farms causing issues to nearby homes, and asked the commissioners to consider the proposed UDO changes.

“We only get one chance to get this right,” Horsley said.

Her and other residents believe that other land in the county would be more optimal for the solar farm than where BrightNight planned to have the farm. BrightNight has the option to file an appeal, and have stated in materials that when the project’s life is complete, the land is reverted to its original condition.

BrightNight representatives have also said that they are working to address the community concerns at the initial proposal, and are also looking for opportunities to work in the region.

Overall, Basham said she isn’t anti solar farm but feels she is being reasonable in terms of the requests she and other residents want to see in the UDO.

“Let’s just make sure that we do it properly,” she said.

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