Solar Farm Plans Draw Large Crowd – Hometown News Now

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(La Porte County, IN) – A solar energy company is officially seeking permission to draw energy from the sun on 2,600 acres of farmland in LaPorte County.

Opponents of the proposed facility packed the LaPorte County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday hoping for a moratorium until there was a better understanding about industrial solar farms.

They were disappointed to learn it’s too late to place a moratorium on the current proposal since the request to build and operate it had already been submitted Tuesday for consideration by the LaPorte County Board of Zoning Appeals.

“That’s my interpretation of the law,” said Scott Pejic, the attorney for the commissioners.

RWE Clean Energy, LLC is seeking a special exception to the current agricultural zoning of the land in the area of 600 East and 200 North in Kankakee and Wills townships.

Renewable Development Manager Emily McDuff, who works out of the company’s office in Chicago, said the amount of electricity produced by the solar panels would at least equal what’s needed to power every home in LaPorte County.

McDuff said the power would help replace the electricity to be lost when coal fired generating plants in Indiana such as the NIPSCO facility in Michigan City, shutdown in the next couple of years.

She said about a dozen landowners would no longer have to worry about selling their properties with the supplemental income they’ll be paid for use of their land under a 35 year lease.

McDuff said the solar farm would also mean about $100 million in property tax revenue for local governments over the lifetime of the operation.

After 35 years, McDuff said the solar farm would be decommissioned and the property restored to farmland.

McDuff also said barriers consisting of plants and other natural growth would be created around each of the sites.

“Our application exceeds LaPorte County and the state requirements in areas such as vegetative screening and setbacks from residential neighbors,” she said.

Heather Oake of 3306 N. 50 East said county government’s solar farm ordinance adopted in 2021 should be amended to prohibit solar farms anywhere near residential neighborhoods.

Oake also said she understands the desire of landowners not wanting to be forced into possibly selling one day for retirement income.

“I think we just need to be looking at both sides and really what the majority of the people want.  Maybe we should do polling to find out,” she said.

Landowners like Cindy Kusper of 5253 E. 150 North defended what they felt was a right to do what they wish with their properties. 

She and her husband stand to be compensated handsomely from about one-third of the solar operation resting on their 950 acres of productive farm land.

“We have a vision of making that land go back to where it is now.  But, in the meantime, it helps us financially and secures us for the future,” she said.

Rhonda Haverstock of 2591 N 600 East said her husband, Jack, is now retired from farming and they rent the ground to other farmers using it to grow crops.

Haverstock said a solar farm lease would prevent any possibility of her having to sell land that’s been in her family for generations.

“We’ve got children, grandchildren that we’d like to see benefit from this also.  I’m asking everyone to consider our property rights,” she said.

Oake said she believes there are limits to the rights of someone owning property.

“I do have empathy for the farmers that want to lease their land. On the flip side, we have zoning laws. If we didn’t any zoning laws then sure you can do whatever you want with your property but we do have zoning laws,” she said.

Critics also pointed out the hundreds of construction jobs created would be gone with just a few workers remaining to operate the facility once it’s built.

However, Susan Thomas, Director of Legislation and Policy for the group “Just Transition Northwest Indiana,” said a new industry is being created from the move toward cleaner energy.

Thomas said workers are being trained now to repair and maintain solar panels while receiving a livable wage.

“These are union jobs.  It’s very exciting,” she said.

The BZA is expected to begin considering the proposal at its next meeting on May 21.

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