The Board of Commissioners of Grant County, Indiana, finds itself in the eye of a brewing storm that could pit residents of Marion and Upland against Indiana Wesleyan and Taylor universities.
Board members received a letter, signed by Taylor President D. Michael Lindsay and IWU President David Wright. The letter said plans to install solar energy systems on their respective campuses are imperiled by the Area Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals’ recent draft of a new solar ordinance.
The university chiefs said their projects are meant to offset energy usage and bring about positive environmental and financial impact at the universities and in Grant County. Both leaders claim the draft ordinance would make the solar projects “virtually impossible.”
The Area Plan Commission approved the draft solar ordinance by a 7-1 vote, after a presentation by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Several people attended the April 4 meeting in support of the ordinance. If adopted by the county commissioners, it would require setbacks of 300 feet from the property line of “non-participating landowners” and 1,320 feet – or a quarter-mile – from a “primary structure” or home of a non-participating landowner.
Stephanie Wells, an advocate for Hoosiers for Renewables, argued such setbacks are so restrictive they likely would keep solar developers from pursuing a project in the county, the Marion Chronicle-Tribune reported.
Wells said a Purdue University study of solar and wind ordinances found the average setbacks in the 46 Hoosier counties that have adopted such rules is 50 feet from a property line and 200 feet from a structure. She said her research found green-energy developments do not negatively impact land values and provide “viable income diversification” for landowners.
“We are convinced this proposed ordinance would not be in the best economic interests of our major employers, residents and the community,” the university presidents’ letter said. “We urge you to reconsider the current format of the ordinance.
“As a result of the aforementioned, we would request that Grant County consider aligning an ordinance more closely with the recently passed Senate Bill 411, which was designed to establish thorough and reasonable standards for siting wind and solar across the State of Indiana on a volunteer basis.”
SB 411 establishes a “commercial solar and wind energy ready communities development center” within the Indiana Economic Development Commission. The center will certify communities that volunteer to participate as solar- or wind-energy ready, if they meet siting standards established in the bill. The siting criteria for solar systems are at least 50 feet from a property line and 250 feet from a dwelling.
SB 411 was a second attempt by the General Assembly to standardize solar and wind energy siting to keep green-energy developers from abandoning Indiana. In 2021, House Bill 1381 tried to override restrictive county ordinances. It passed the House, but was withdrawn before certain defeat in the Senate.
The fate of the Grant County solar ordinance remains unclear, the Chronicle-Tribune reported. It was formally presented to the commissioners April 18, and the board has up to 90 days to review before accepting it or sending it back to the Area Plan Commission for revisions.
It’s a cautionary tale, one the counties of northeast Indiana should weigh carefully.