INDIANAPOLIS – A Senate panel Thursday dramatically changed a bill that would have set statewide standards for the placement and operation of commercial wind farms and solar farms – overruling existing local rules.
House Bill 1381 has been a lightning rod for controversy this session, and the Senate Utilities Committee adopted an amendment stripping the state control but offering an option for local siting of and incentives for wind farms. It does not address solar farms.
“We heard the cry that (local government) wanted to maintain some local control,” said Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, who crafted the amendment.
He said the bill would provide siting standards for any county that wishes to adopt them, or counties can create their own. If a county wants to prohibit wind and solar, it can continue to do so.
He said the measure would allow counties to create a renewable energy district that authorizes one-time payments by the developers of up to $3,000 per megawatt of capacity. That can be used to pay for improvements in the zone. There is a one-mile buffer for municipalities and state parks and any disputes would go to local court – not the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
The altered bill passed 9-2 and now moves to the full Senate.
Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, authored the bill in the House and gave the background on why the state needs to get involved in the renewable energy policy. He said 34 Indiana counties restrict wind and solar projects, which has created a patchwork impact that is pushing developers outside the state.
He said a group of people have traveled to different counties with fairy tales and myths about windmills. He alleged the harassment even led to the suicide of one county commissioner.
Soliday said the reality is the nation is moving to more renewable energy and it is too expensive to continue paying to bring it here from western states via transmission lines.
Soliday said Indiana needs to create its own renewable energy here, and a study has found the grid could handle up to 30% renewable energy and remain stable. Indiana is currently around 6%, according to testimony.
Many Hoosiers who had signed up to testify haven’t seen the large amendment that was posted just as the meeting started.
Ryan Hoff, lobbyist for the Association of Indiana Counties, said the amendment appears to allow local control and he likes the concept of incentivizing local participation with construction fees.
“So you support the bill now even though we have an amendment none of us have read?” asked Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg?
Hoff responded “we are in a trust-but-verify situation.”
Leising voted against the bill and many of those who spoke in opposition were from her district. She and others noted everything in the bill can already happen under current law.
But Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, said it offers parameters for local government and creates a path to one-time payments to neighbors affected by a large project.
“It is offering up a tool that says ‘here is a way you could do this that might address a lot of people’s concerns,’” he said.
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