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Commission continues work on wind, solar ordinances

PORTLAND – Wind power and solar energy continues to occupy the Jay County Plan Commission.

Commission members have reviewed tweaks to the draft of a reworked wind farm ordinance and grappled with how to regulate solar energy systems, both residential and commercial.

“I’m tired of talking about wind and solar,” said Jay/Portland Building and Planning director John Hemmelgarn as Scott Hilfiker, Steve Ford, Tom Laux, Matt Minnich and Chad Aker reviewed drafts of potential new ordinances.

The commission began reviewing the county’s wind farm ordinance after Jay County Commissioners imposed a three-year moratorium on such developments in response to backlash over Scout Clean Energy’s Bitter Ridge Wind Farm in Jefferson and Richland townships.

The Bitter Ridge project is expected to begin construction in August or September and was approved under the existing ordinance. The moratorium is intended to give the county time to revise and reconsider items such as setbacks and permit fees.

Plan commission will continue to review the draft ordinances at its July 18 meeting. Once the language is complete, the ordinances will be advertised and will be the subject of a public hearing. After action by the plan commission, the ordinances would go to Jay County Commissioners to be adopted.

The first draft of a new ordinance calls for the setback from a wind turbine to be 1.5 times the total height of the turbine at its highest point, measured from the tip of an upright blade, away from the property line of non-participating landowners. The setback for homes is a minimum of 1,500 feet from non-participating landowners.

Participating landowners can waive those setbacks.

The biggest change in the draft since the commission’s last meeting in March is a significant boost in the permit fee, linking it to the amount of energy produced. The draft ordinance calls for a fee of $1,750 per megawatt produced each year.

“This almost doubles the permit fees,” said Hemmelgarn. “This is what other counties are doing.”

The commission also reviewed a draft ordinance for small wind energy projects, the kind that are for residential use. Currently, only one such wind turbine – erected several years ago by Ron and Shirley Stauffer – exists in the county. As proposed, the draft ordinance would establish a threshold of 100 kilowatts between residential and commercial wind turbine projects.

Establishing rules and regulations for solar energy projects is especially challenging because there are few models to base things on.

“We didn’t know where to begin,” said Hemmelgarn, noting that Indiana has yet to establish guidelines.

“I don’t know how restrictive we want to get,” Hemmelgarn added.

Any new county ordinance would cover not only potential solar farms but also individual residential installation of solar panels.

Commercial solar farms, as defined in the first draft, would be those larger than five acres. Using the wind farm ordinance as a template, the draft calls for a $20,000 development application fee and a $20 per annual kilowatt permit fee.

Setbacks, as spelled out in the first draft, would be 150 feet from the property line.

Decommissioning and road use requirements would mirror those in wind farm regulations.