The Howard County Commissioners received nearly 30 responses from local citizens regarding the board’s recently introduced draft solar ordinance.
Board President Paul Wyman said this week that 27 people sent emails with their thoughts about the draft ordinance the commissioners announced earlier this month.
The board now plans on sifting through the feedback and coming back with a final ordinance that will be voted on. When that will be and how much will be changed is unknown.
“We haven’t really set a date or time, but we’ll review it for a little bit,” Wyman said.
Commissioner Jack Dodd said the responses were “good comments” that included both for and against arguments. He did not go into details on what was exactly said in the public responses.
“Are we going to vote for that ordinance just the way it is? No, because now our work begins,” Dodd said. “We have to take in all the public comments. … We have to debate it. Paul will have his changes. Brad (Bray) will have his changes, and we’re going to discuss them back and forth. That’s how the system is supposed to work, and that’s how it will work.”
The 24-page draft ordinance lays out the general rules and guidelines any and all solar energy installations — from large-scale commercial to residential and business rooftop installations and more — must meet to be installed and operate in the county and comes at a time when ENGIE, a multinational electric utility company, is seeking to operate a large-scale solar farm just southeast of Greentown.
The draft ordinance itself is nearly a carbon copy — except for a handful of tweaks and additions here and there — of a “model solar ordinance for Indiana” drafted by the Minneapolis-based Great Plains Institute, a nonprofit that hopes to achieve a “better energy system” through decarbonizing electricity, according to the organization’s website.
Changes and additions made to the “model solar ordinance” by the commissioners largely pertain to county approval of lot coverage, allowing the county Board of Zoning Appeals or commissioners to reach agreements or set conditions regarding any solar energy project and provides more details regarding the process of when a solar project has run its course or is abandoned, also known as decommissioning.
County Attorney Alan Wilson said at Monday’s commissioners meeting that if ENGIE would not be grandfathered into the solar ordinance.
Wyman said, though, if ENGIE does receive its special exception to operate a power generation facility, the agreements between the company and county will follow whatever solar ordinance the board passes.
“The agreements we will sign with them, if we ever get to that point, will be in accordance with this ordinance,” Wyman said.
The board’s draft ordinance received some criticism.
Merrill Swisher, of Greentown, said at Monday’s meeting that he did not like that the draft ordinance allowed a project’s setback limit to be 150 feet from any “existing dwelling unit of a non-participating landowner,” and that the setback limit could be reduced by 50% to 75 feet if the solar array has a “landscape buffer that screens the array at the setback point of measurement.”
“You people should not vote on something like that,” Swisher said.
Clee Oliver, of rural Howard County, criticized the commissioners’ decision to copy and paste Great Plains Institute’s model ordinance.
“To me, it just really doesn’t look like you had much foresight into the ordinance,” he said. “It’s pretty much written verbatim. … I think you all have done a disservice as far as writing this ordinance.”
ENGIE will be seeking its special exception at 7 p.m. Tuesday during the Howard County Board of Zoning Appeals regular monthly meeting, which will be held at the Kokomo Event & Conference Center, 1500 N. Reed Road.
Last month, the board took no vote on the matter. If the request is granted, then the company can begin to hammer out with the county the exact details regarding the project. If it’s not approved, the company will not be able to proceed, though it can reapply for the special exception at a later date.
“The bulk of the work of this project starts if they’re able to get their special exception,” Wyman said, stressing that any agreements made will be presented to the public for review. “Once they get their special exception … then we gotta figure out if the project is right for the community, can we come together on these agreements, and can we make sure that … it’s powerful for everybody?”