Rural counties throughout the Midwest are trying to figure out how to appropriately deploy renewable energy investments across the landscape. Utility-scale wind farms came first. Up until several years ago, photovoltaic (PV) solar energy was something of an expensive “luxury” in these parts. But after consistent price declines and improved technology, we’ve arrived at the point where the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency said recently, “I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets.” The IEA’s recent report states “Solar photovoltaics are now cheaper than plants fired by coal and natural gas in most nations.”
This is in line with what our local utility NIPSCO found when they put an RFP out on the market for new energy. That this happened in coal-dominated Indiana sparked headlines across the country. On economic considerations alone, we have to switch sources, to say nothing of the massive human health and ecological benefits such a transition would mean.
In February of this year, the Marshall County Commissioners imposed a one-year moratorium on all PV solar installations greater than 10 acres. (For scale, our 515 kW (DC) solar installation at Ancilla College is about 1.5 acres). They felt that there were simply too many unresolved issues around large solar installations that needed careful review. The Commissioners then created a Solar Task Force that was to come up with the framework for responsible standards related to large solar farms.
Myself and others were asked to be on the Task Force. We met in May, June, July and August, pulling in information from model ordinances that had already been adopted by other rural counties, and carefully considering how to balance private property rights & the public good. A few of us also participated in a regional workshop where many of these issues were discussed.
The process involved a good amount of back and forth, and I do feel that we were able to come up with reasonable standards. You can see these amendments to the ordinance at the following link (let me know if it doesn’t download):
The amendments were considered by the Plan Commission, and passed by that body on August 27th.
The ordinance then passed it’s first reading before the Commissioners on Sept. 21st. It is up for a second reading this coming Monday morning, Oct. 19th, around 9:30 AM EST. The ordinance needs to pass three readings in order to be adopted. I will be present in case any clarifications are needed about our process or the resultant amendments (see here for a fact sheet addressing many common concerns).
This current process is simply for creating a framework for responsible energy development in the county and is not about any proposed project in particular, which would have to pass through it’s own permitting & approval process.
If you’d like to reach out to the Commissioners, their contact information is here. There are certainly a lot of consequential decisions before us as a county, and I appreciate their work as public servants in trying to discern what is in the best long-term interest of our community.