RICHMOND, Ind. – Wayne County effectively said no to wind turbines more than four years ago.
Public input and a county ordinance rejected wind farms that Randolph County had accepted. Each county was able to choose what was best for that county.
This year, however, the Indiana General Assembly is considering legislation that would set statewide default standards regarding wind farms and solar parks. House Bill 1381 would also prevent counties from adopting or enforcing more strict standards.
Local choice would be gone.
Wayne County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday that opposes adoption of House Bill 1381 and “any other legislation that disenfranchises local citizens of the right to make local planning decisions and direct the future of their own communities.” Later that night, the Indiana House of Representatives passed the bill 58-38, sending it for Senate consideration.
Rep. Tom Saunders of District 54 and Rep. Brad Barrett of District 56, the two representatives whose districts include areas of Wayne County, both voted against the bill.
“Again, this is a case where the state is trying to take over the responsibilities of the local government,” said Commissioner Ken Paust when he introduced the resolution. “We certainly are not in favor of them doing that. We’re trying to get the troops together to let the state legislature know that we’re not interested in them doing that.”
To express opposition to the legislation, the Indiana Association of County Commissioners distributed the resolution to Indiana’s 92 counties and encouraged them to adopt it. Paust said COVID-19 guidelines limit statehouse gatherings, so local governments cannot send 500 or 600 people to oppose the bill in person. Instead, counties adopting the resolution and personally contacting legislators express the opposition.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do before all of a sudden the state will be telling us what we can and can’t do as far as windmills and solar panels,” Paust said.
The resolution expresses five points:
- Counties have created and implemented development plans with investment and employment opportunities desired by a county’s citizens, whether that includes wind or solar projects or not;
- Decisions regarding wind and solar projects should be made by citizens within a community not by industry or state officials who live outside the community;
- The legislation disenfranchises citizens of the ability to determine under what conditions wind or solar projects would be permitted;
- Conditions for wind and solar projects would be dictated by those outside the community; and
- Individuals and families living in a community should direct their own future through land-use decisions “through actions by their local elected officials.” (The commissioners added the final phrase.)
Commissioner Jeff Plasterer said he supports the idea of local decision-making; however, he advocated changing the final point when it referred only to individuals and families. With the commissioners’ addition, the resolution passed unanimously.
Commissioner Mary Anne Butters called the state bill a “terrible erosion of local authority.” She wondered how else opposition could be registered with those in the statehouse, such as billboard and television campaigns.
“What can we do to get our message inside that building in a more effective way?” Butters said.
Regarding wind turbines, the bill initiates the establishment of default standards regarding setback requirements, height restrictions, shadow flicker limitations, signal interference, sound level limitations and project decommissioning.
When EDP Renewables, which had established Randolph County’s wind farms, began soliciting property owners for locations to erect 100 wind turbines in the northwestern portion of Wayne County, opposition was swift. Citizens spoke against the idea during a public hearing, and a campaign of yard signs and billboards opposed the project.
The commissioners in December 2016 enacted an ordinance that requires those who wish to install industrial wind turbines on their property to seek a zoning variance. That means any wind turbines would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
EDP Renewables abandoned its Wayne County effort.
Wayne County localities have been more receptive to solar farm projects. The Indiana Municipal Power Agency, the wholesale electric power provider to which Richmond Power & Light is a member, has established five Wayne County solar parks with a sixth on the way.
House Bill 1381 would establish statewide solar park default standards for setback requirements, height restrictions, ground cover, fencing, cables, glare, signal interference, sound level limitations and project decommissioning.
The first solar park established in Wayne County is alongside RP&L’s facility on U.S. 27, three in Richmond are visible from Interstate 70 and one is near Centerville. The next solar park will be on land bordered by Wernle Road and South 23rd Street. That land was rezoned to permit the solar park use.
According to an IMPA list online, the first five parks produce 21 megawatts of electricity that can power about 3,000 homes. The sixth is expected to produce another 16 megawatts. The electricity generated enters the local power grid and is used locally.
IMPA currently has 32 solar parks operating in Indiana.