• WBST 92.1 FMMuncie
  • WBSB 89.5 FMAnderson
  • WBSW 90.9 FMMarion
  • WBSH 91.1 FMHagerstown / New Castle
Indiana Public Radio, a listener-supported service of Ball State University
Listen Live Online. Tap to open audio stream.

After contentious meeting, Delaware County plan commission sends new solar ordinance to commissioners

By Stephanie Wiechmann, IPR News | Published on in Business, Environment, Government, Local News, Politics
Both advocates and opponents of solar energy packed the Justice Center auditorium for a sometimes loud, angry meeting. (Stephanie Wiechmann / IPR News)

Delaware County has drafted an ordinance that could end a moratorium on new solar energy projects in the county.  But, as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, opponents are still not happy the county wants to welcome the projects at all.

A local task force has been adding to a local zoning ordinance governing solar projects on agricultural lands for more than a year, after a moratorium was passed.   That’s after coordinated opposition to two proposed solar projects near Gaston and Albany.

Those projects combined would have leased land from about 20 property owners and created enough energy to power 45,000 homes per day.

Landowners have said they are worried about declining property values, panels they call “toxic” polluting well water, and taking active farm ground out of commission.

Brandon Petro of Gaston says he doesn’t want solar projects near his land.

“Another man’s right to do as he pleases with his land should not diminish my rights or the enjoyment of my rights….  You know, I think the story would be completely different if we proposed a solar project on [Yorktown’s] Morrow’s Meadow.”

Read More: Muncie city council votes down solar field at former GM plant, citing cost and land use

But solar advocates, like Jason Donati, who served on the task force, want the county to welcome solar projects for their economic and environmental benefits.

“We were tasked with being objective and creating an ordinance for the entire county.  What was apparent to me was there was clear voices in there that were completely against it all together.  And when you – if it’s just one part of our county that’s against this, it’s eliminating all the opportunity for the rest of the county.”

Read More: Indiana didn’t add as much utility-scale solar last year, likely due to delays

The committee suggested several changes to the ordinance, adding in provisions to benefit non-participating properties – like requiring a year’s notice of any solar project before the company even applies to the county, a good neighbor agreement, and a property value guarantee.

But a county-hired consultant says those things are uncommon and largely unenforceable by county officials.  On her recommendation, the Delaware-Muncie Metropolitan Plan Commission voted to remove those provisions.

Solar opponents were upset.  But nothing caused more vocal ire than changing the proposed limit to the number of acres of farmland that solar projects could occupy.  The task force suggested the limit be 3,400 acres – or two percent of the county’s farmland.

Plan commission member and county commissioner Shannon Henry received a successful vote on his suggestion to increase that to 35,000 acres – or 20 percent.

And then the yelling from the audience began.

“Shannon, please explain why!  Why 35,000 acres?”

Henry replied, “Thirty-four-hundred acres is not enough in my opinion.”

Various audience members reacted as the plan commission president banged the gavel.

“We’re talking industrial solar – “

“It’s not in your backyard, is it?”

“It’s going to bring more lawsuits than just tabling it or going the other way!”

“You don’t live anywhere near there!”

The proposed changes to the ordinance didn’t include much change to setbacks – how far between a property line and a solar project.  An increase to setbacks was originally requested by opponents and Delaware County commissioners concurred when they approved the moratorium in February 2022.

During the discussion, the plan commission approved increasing the setback from a non-participating property with a home on it from 200 feet to 500 feet.

The commission sent the solar ordinance with a favorable recommendation to adopt to the Delaware County Commissioners.  It will be considered at a meeting on November 20 at 9:00 AM at the Delaware County Building.

Stephanie Wiechmann is our Managing Editor and “All Things Considered” Host.  Contact her at slwiechmann@bsu.edu.