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Usurping local control not answer to boosting clean energy

The growth of energy from renewable sources such as sunlight and wind should be a high priority in Indiana.

And, it was refreshing to hear a powerful Indiana House leader acknowledge the potential for Hoosier jobs and economic benefits through wind and solar power. “Almost every large corporation in the state is saying they want renewable” energy, said Ed Soliday, a Republican representative from Valparaiso.

Still, Indiana communities should not be forced by the state to accommodate those renewable energy projects. Counties should be able to accept or deny such ventures without the state overriding local decisions.

State entities would have the final say in such decisions, if House Bill 1381 becomes law. The House passed the bill 58-38 last month, moving it into the hands of the Senate.

Soliday authored the legislation, which would set standards for sites selected to host solar and wind farms. The bill also allows counties to issue permits and review the process, but there is a catch. If a county denies a company that meets state standards, that business can appeal its case to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The IURC would get the last word.

Vigo County officials have passed a resolution opposing the bill, as have some other counties. Vigo Commissioner Brendan Kearns emphasized the opposition is not a rejection of wind or solar energy potential. Instead, the county’s opposition draws a line in protecting its right to make such decisions locally through “home rule.”

“I feel we need to be the voice of Vigo County, rather than somebody in Indianapolis that doesn’t care about us,” Kearns said.

As a coal-producing state, Indiana has been slow to accept renewable sources of fuel. The nation’s transition to a broader mix of fossil fuels and renewable sources for energy has gradually led to more jobs and facilities in wind and solar energy production, though. Indiana has seen some growth. An estimated 10,764 jobs in Indiana were based in renewable energy production in 2018, a 4.7% increase from the previous year, according to the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs.

“There is demand,” Rep. Soliday said, “and there are businesses deciding not to come to Indiana because we don’t have renewable energy.”

Thirty-two of Indiana’s 92 counties – most in northern Indiana – have banned wind developments. Those bans contribute to the state needing to buy nearly 80% of its electricity from other states on certain days, Soliday said. Attempts by two large companies to create wind farms in Indiana were foiled by local ordinances, costing those firms millions of dollars, Soliday said.

The answer does not lie in taking away counties’ authority to decide. Instead, Statehouse leadership should promote public awareness of the value of hosting a renewable energy production site, and work with reluctant counties to address their concerns. Rather than pushing this bill through, the Legislature should dig into the topic through a summer study committee.