The Knox County Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday opposing a bill being considered in the House of Representatives that would strip control from local authorities in regards to the development of solar and wind energy.
Lawmakers in the Indiana House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee are trying to counter opposition in some Hoosier counties to potential wind and solar projects — including some opposition by residents right here in Knox County — by introducing legislation that would establish state regulations for solar and wind energy production systems.
The legislation, authored by Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), is meant to make the state “friendlier” to renewable energy, according to a report in the Associated Press.
House Bill 1381 creates default standards limiting where solar and wind systems can be installed and under what conditions, as well as limits on shadow flicker, sound limits, landscape buffers and other nuisance factors that have led to wind and solar energy sources being banned or heavily regulated in more than a third of the state’s counties.
Local governments wouldn’t be able to make ordinances stricter than those guidelines, and currently, county commission president Trent Hinkle said the county’s solar ordinance is more strict than the state’s proposed guidelines.
Hinkle during the virtual meeting Tuesday called the bill a “complete overreach of state government,” and he pointed out that the bill would reduce the buffer — the mandated space between a solar panel and the next-nearest structure — to 100 feet; the county’s ordinance dictates 200 feet.
“This (bill) totally negates what we’ve fought for and what we were proactive on in creating our own ordinance,” he said. “This sets a horrible precedent to take away the rights counties have had for decades, which is to dictate their own zoning laws.”
Commissioner Kellie Streeter said she has contacted the counties representatives and asked “why are you creating a land law that is specific to counties?”
“We have our own zoning ordinances for a reason,” she said. “We decide, as counties, how our land is used.
“They talk all the time about how county matters are county matters, and now you’re creating a statewide law that says we have to do it (the state’s) way.”
Streeter said Knox County is largely “pro-solar,” which is why it created its own zoning law in the first place.
“We are only against the state not understanding that every county is different,” she said.
Commissioner T.J. Brink agreed and said this bill was “truly the state overstepping.”
Elected officials here — as well as members of the Area Plan Commission — spent more than a year drafting the county’s first solar ordinance as developers actively looked to pursue projects here.
Officials debated its details for months, including setbacks, property buffers and decommissioning standards, among other things.
It was given final approval this fall.
The APC is currently considering the county’s first solar project, the permits for which were submitted last month by a solar development team that includes Nebraska-based Tenaska and Capital Dynamics.
A handful of county residents from Harrison Township — mainly those who would be living near the proposed solar development — attended an hours-long APC meeting earlier this month to express their opposition.
The APC will meet again next month to take back up discussions, but the commissioners fear the state bill, if approved, would pull the rug right out from underneath them, essentially voiding all the hard work done at the local level over the last year.
The resolution approved Tuesday by the county commissioners states that they believe decisions regarding wind and solar development are “best made by the (residents) living in the community rather than by the wind and solar industry or state officials who live outside (Knox County).”
The county commissioners believe such legislation would “disenfranchise (the county’s) ability to determine the conditions under which wind energy and solar energy projects would be allowed.”
House Bill 1381 is also opposed by the Association of Indiana Counties and the Indiana Association of County Commissioners, of which the commissioners are both members.
At least a dozen other counties have passed similar resolutions against the bill, Streeter said Tuesday.
Soliday, the bill’s author, however, has said the pending legislation is necessary to meet the state’s demand for renewable energy, according to a report in the Indiana Environmental Reporter.
If it doesn’t happen here, it will happen elsewhere, he argues, which would leave Indiana missing out on the benefits of wind and solar projects, things like more readily available sources of renewable energy.
Representatives from companies planning renewable energy projects in the state also support the bill, saying it would streamline what has been a difficult county-by-county process to navigate.
In addition, Soliday has said solar and wind projects can also help counties regain some of the tax revenue that will be lost as coal plants shut down.
A final vote in the House is expected next week; it would then move on to the Senate.