The Brown County Commissioners are unanimously opposing a bill in the Indiana General Assembly that they believe will take away the local approval and permitting process when it comes to commercial wind and solar projects.
House Bill 1381, authored by Rep. Edmond Soliday (R-Valparaiso), deals with commercial wind and solar standards and sites.
The bill would establish default standards for the development of solar and wind farms, including setback requirements, height restrictions, and signal interference.
The bill also states that a local government “may not restrict, or impose conditions or limitations on, the construction, installation, siting, modification, operation or decommissioning” of wind and solar commercial projects.
“We have counties in the state who have chosen wind and solar renewable energy as economic drivers in their communities. Brown County, for the most part, we’re not geographically in a good place for those kind of projects. We’re not flat enough,” Brown County commissioner Diana Biddle said.
“But the bottom line is, this particular bill is a direct attack on the county home rule authority.”
The Indiana Home Rule Act grants municipalities, like county government, the power to govern themselves to best fit their needs.
The resolution the commissioners approved was prepared by the Indiana Association of County Commissioners. The Brown County Commissioners approved it at their Feb. 17 meeting.
“They are very adamant that counties adopt this resolution because the legislators are not listening to the local units right now,” Biddle said.
“This particular resolution that we are proposing, we’re not against renewable energy, we’re not against solar or wind, we just want the counties to be responsible for our land use.”
The resolution states that counties throughout the state have “created and implemented plans for development that provide the type of new investment and additional employment that is desired by the citizens of the county.
“And in many instances the desired development has included wind or solar projects,” the resolution states.
It says that decisions regarding wind and solar development “are best made by the citizens living in the community rather than by the wind and solar industry or state officials who live outside the community.”
If the bill is enacted, it would “disenfranchise the citizens of the ability to determine the conditions under which wind energy and solar energy projects would be allowed in their county,” the resolution says.
It says that communities would be “compelled to allow wind and solar projects under conditions dictated by others living outside the community.”
“If a land owner or property owner next door to one of these proposed projects wanted to appeal that decision, then the appeal would not come to the county commissioners,” Biddle said.
“We don’t want someone else from Indianapolis deciding how we invest or how we develop our county.”
The bill passed the house on Feb. 17. Sen. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), who represents Brown County, will sponsor the bill in the Senate along with Sen. Mark Messmer. The bill is awaiting a committee assignment in the Senate now.
Rep. Chris May (R-Bedford), who represents Brown County, voted in favor of the final version of the bill in the House. He could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Last week, Koch said in an email that the bill was based on a recommendation made by the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force, which conducted a two-year study on state energy policy. He noted that 32 Indiana counties have enacted local bans on renewable energy production.
He said he was still reviewing the specifics of the bill; it was only halfway through the process and was not in its final form.
“I anticipate a continued dialogue in the Senate that tries to find the right balance between local decision-making and the state policy interest in removing obstacles to renewable energy production,” he said.
Koch also added that the concern over the possibility of wind turbines “popping up all over Brown County” was a non-issue.
“I have confirmed with the wind energy industry that Brown County is not suitable for utility scale wind development, so there would be no impact,” he said.
Koch served as the co-chair of the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force along with Soliday.
The task force had 17 findings in its final report. Those included that to keep Indiana competitive in attracting and retaining businesses here, “the state must encourage the deployment of renewable energy resources, while not compromising the reliability and affordability of electric utility service.”
Another finding was that local ordinances and tax structures that vary are “barriers to attracting renewable energy resource developments and projects in Indiana.”
One of the findings also stated that the affordability of electricity has developed into a more important concern since Indiana’s prices are no longer among the lowest in the 50 states.
The task force also made eight recommendations including having the General Assembly consider legislation that would establish “statewide specific metrics and goals” for energy reliability and legislation that would “standardize requirements for siting of renewable energy resource projects and facilities.”
It also recommended that the General Assembly extend the term of the task force for another two years until November 2022 so that it can further study 10 issues, including the status of energy efficiency efforts in Indiana and the potential development of an energy efficiency plan for the entire state.
The entire report is available at www.iga.in.gov/documents/7b8200b2.
Biddle said even though Brown County is not an ideal spot for a commercial wind or solar project, the bill is a “an attack on our home rule” and that requires the commissioners to be “particularly attentive” to it.
Commissioner President Jerry Pittman said he was “fully behind” the resolution.
“I am not power hungry. I don’t think anybody else here is necessarily either, but when we give up an ability to control our zoning and planning in regards to these types of developments, who knows what somebody from Indianapolis might want to do with it, and it certainly wouldn’t necessarily be in our interest,” he said.
“I believe in the home rule proposition fully. I think we should pass this resolution. That will put our thoughts on the table and let our legislators know we are not in favor of this.”
Biddle said the resolution had been approved by almost 20 other counties by Feb. 17. “This is the only way we feel we can make our voices heard,” she said.
Josh Hawley, the Cordry-Sweetwater conservancy manager and superintendent, also asked for a copy of the resolution for the Cordry-Sweetwater Conservancy District Board of Directors to consider.
“I am all for decentralizing power and this is going in the other direction. This is centralizing the power in Indianapolis and leaves us out of the loop. I think this is in our best interest as Brown County to express our opposition,” Pittman said.
This bill deals with commercial wind or solar projects and not private ones.
“We can have a solar farm in Brown County. That’s our choice and it should be our choice. It should not be the choice of someone up in Indianapolis to just make a wholesale decision that doesn’t impact them,” Biddle said.
“We have local home rule authority. What home rule says is decisions are best made by the people who live in that area.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding