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Jul. 2—ANDERSON — The proposed draft of a new ordinance to regulate commercial solar energy projects will make it difficult for future developments.
Currently only the $110 million, 120 megawatt proposed Lone Oak Solar Farm by Invenergy remains eligible for construction in the county.
That project will not be impacted by the new solar ordinance and the project has been granted a special use for construction in northern Madison County by the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals.
The draft ordinance was written by Brad Newman, the county's planning director. It contains a property value guarantee; limits commercial solar farms to 20% of the considered prime agricultural land in the county; and limits what zone classification a project will be permitted.
Madison County Councilman Jerry Alexander, a member of the Plan Commission, voiced several concerns with the proposed ordinance.
"We're hanging a sign outside of Madison County that if you're a solar company you can't do business in the county," he said.
Alexander said the 20% requirement concerning prime farm ground and the property value guarantee are too restrictive for companies to locate in Madison County.
Denise Spooner, a member of the group opposing the Lone Oak Solar Farm, said Friday she was impressed with the proposed ordinance.
"Our group has expressed things that should be addressed in the new ordinance," she said. "Commercial solar farms should not be located on prime farm land."
Spooner said one of her concerns has been the property value guarantee and the loss of agricultural land.
"I believe it won't go back to agricultural use," she said.
"Our group will fight for the passage of the ordinance as presented," Spooner said.
Newman worked on the new ordinance for more than one year and reviewed similar ordinances from Indiana and other states.
He said the Plan Commission members were provided the draft of the ordinance for their review.
"There will be some amendments," Newman said.
He said the ordinance will be presented to the Plan Commission on July 13 at which time a required public hearing could be set.
Newman said the proposal includes some of the requirements the Board of Zoning Appeals included in the special use for the Lone Oak project.
That included the solar farm can't be located within 500 feet of a residence or 200 feet of a property line.
Newman said the setbacks could be scaled back if a property owner reaches an agreement with the developer.
He said a large percentage of Madison County is considered prime farm land by the United States Department of Agriculture.
"It will be difficult to build a large scale solar farm," Newman said. "There will be an exception for smaller solar farms like what IMPA (Indiana Municipal Power Agency) has constructed."
The property value guarantee covers any single family residential property within a mile of a solar farm development and an agreement has to be signed within 180 days of approval by the county.
An appraisal has to be conducted by a certified state appraiser, who can't be related to the property owner.
John Simmermon, a member of the Madison County Plan Commission, said the limiting to 20% of the prime farm ground and property value guarantee is the key provision of the proposed ordinace.
"Those two big things will keep most people out," he said. "I'm happy with the ordinance."
Simmermon said he voted to approve the Lone Oak project because he didn't think people should be told what to do with their land.
"The neighbors didn't want to have it," he said. "How can one neighbor tell someone what to do with 1,000 acres?"
Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.