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Wayne County officials happy after counties prevail in wind, solar fight with legislature

RICHMOND, Ind. – Indiana’s counties won a fight with the state’s legislature this week, but that fight might continue in the future.

House Bill 1381, which would have set statewide default standards for wind and solar projects, was pulled from consideration, even after undergoing significant restructuring. Wayne County’s commissioners had passed a resolution opposing the bill, and they were happy it failed.

“When it was all said and done, I was pleased,” said Ken Paust, president of the commissioners, after Wednesday’s commissioners meeting. “I’m sure it will come up again next year, and depending how they frame the bill, we’ll be right back at it again.”

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 when it originally passed the House.

Commissioners Mary Anne Butters and Jeff Plasterer also both spoke against the bill March 17 when commissioners passed their resolution opposing it.

Paust is president of the board of the Indiana Association of Counties and the East Central District president of the Indiana Association of County Commissioners. Those organizations and the state Farm Bureau worked together fighting the bill.

The “overwhelming support” from that coalition and Indiana’s counties definitely made a difference, according to Paust. He said 62 of Indiana’s 92 counties at last count had passed a resolution against 1381 and its infringement on county authority.

“We want to have 100% local control,” Paust said.

That would not have happened even after a 47-page amendment changed 1381. The amendment addressed some but not all of the local concerns with the bill’s framework.

Wayne County might not have been significantly impacted had the legislation passed, because the county addressed wind power with a December 2016 ordinance. Citizens had vocally opposed efforts by EDP Renewables to install windmills in the northwest portion of the county, and the ordinance caused EDP to abandon its efforts.

“We looked at that and decided the OK the community is not wanting windmills so we’ll put in place regulations that would probably deny anyone from ever coming here due to the setbacks and everything we have in there,” Paust said.

Wayne County has been more welcoming to solar 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.

Still, Indiana’s county officials opposed the precedent of the legislature attempting to circumvent local control of wind and solar regulations.

“What’s going to be next?” Paust pointed out.

For now, at least, Indiana counties have staved off the legislature’s attempt to usurp some control.