MUNCIE, Ind. — The Delaware County commissioners on Monday set an end date for their moratorium on allowing solar farms to be built in the county as opponents continued to protest plans for the Meadow Forge solar project north of Gaston.
Commissioners recently had imposed a moratorium on solar farm construction applications after farmers and residents in northern Washington Township objected to plans by Invenergy, a global energy concern based in Chicago, to create a large solar farm of at least several hundred acres between Gaston and Matthews.
John Brooke, attorney for commissioners, told commissioners the Feb. 22 date should fall after Delaware Muncie Plan Commission has had the opportunity to make changes to the current solar zoning ordinance, which makes fields of solar panels a permitted use of farmland throughout the county. Being a permitted use means solar companies do not need to ask for a variance to install the panels and neighbors do not need to be notified of solar projects.
Tim Niccum, a rural Gaston resident, asked the commissioners to change the ordinance to remove solar fields from being a permitted use allow nearby property owners to have a say in the development of the solar farms.
“From horizon to horizon you are going to see solar panels,” he said.
Cole Stephens of Arrowhead Farms, one of the 17 farm owners who have signed leases with Invenergy to allow the panels to be placed on his land, told commissioners that the local people involved with the solar project “want to be good neighbors.”
He said the opponents don’t want to hear both sides and the project would bring money to the schools and community.
“Coal plants are being shut down,” Stephens said of the way electricity is being generated. “We need to have an alternate source.”
Invenergy estimates $50 million in landowner payments over the life of the project and $155 million in direct investment in the county. Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors forecasts the company will deliver about $16.7 million in property taxes to Wes-Del Community Schools over 35 years of the project’s life.
Delaware County would receive up to $2 million in economic development payments over the first 10 years of the solar farm’s lifespan on top of property taxes.
Tom Schoder of Invenergy was also at the meeting, he said, to answer questions.
He told commissioners that work was being completed to determine where the panels would actually be placed and the company would be talking with neighbors about their concerns.
The moratorium was put in place as commissioners acted to increase setbacks of the solar field from 50 feet to 100 feet and make other changes to the ordinance.
Jackie Sheets of Gaston told commissioners the panels will be close to her home.
“If they catch fire,” she said, “my house will be on fire.”
She said some counties require a setback of 1,300 feet.
The plan commission will meet to consider changes to the solar ordinance at 6 p.m., Feb. 3 in the auditorium of the Delaware County Justice Center.
Commissioners Shannon Henry and James King sat silently as the various people spoke about the solar project. Sherry Riggin, president of commissioners, attended the Monday meeting remotely.
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Gaston-area resident David Mauck said he thought county officials had been listening to the solar companies and proponents. He told commissioners he was disappointed none of them showed at an informational meeting opponents had Saturday at Wes-Del High School.
“I don’t think you are listening to us,” he said.
David Penticuff is the local government reporter at the Star Press. Contact him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Work to change solar zoning ordinance moves to plan commission Feb. 3