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Getting Solar 'Where it Needs to Be' — City Passes Solar Ordinance

6-13 2022  Solar Meet_Jean Webb.jpg
Tim Jagielo
On Monday June 13, Evansville resident Jean Webb reacts to the Evansville Common Council passing an ordinance which explicitly allows solar arrays for residential and commercial use.

Permits residential, community-scale and commercial scale solar farms in Evansville

To much applause in the room, The Common Council of Evansville (also called 'City Council') voted to adopt an ordinance that creates rules for solar arrays inside the city.

It will go into effect after it is signed by Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.

Solar power has been installed by residents in the past, but this law sets parameters which explicitly allow them for homes, community-scale use and commercial solar farms.

At the Monday night meeting, Assistant Director of the Area Plan Commission Blaine Oliver laid out the requirements for installing solar.

Under this ordinance, there are three categories.

The first is residential. If a resident installs an array in their yard instead of the roof, it would follow the same restrictions for accessory buildings — the overall footprint can't exceed the size of their home. There's no Plan Commission permit required for this category.

"The middle category is community-scale solar, and that can go up to 10 acres in size," Oliver said. "And that's probably the category that we would see in the city most often."

He referenced the nearly 10-acre solar farm located at the Oakhill Cemetery Grounds as an example.

The largest category is larger than 10 acres — commercial solar farms. He said these would mostly end up in agricultural areas of the county.

The Vanderburgh County Commission will likely vote on the solar ordinance in two weeks, according to Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave. Musgrave said they'll be considering the language the city is using. She said she'll be suggesting changes to this ordinance, with the needs of county residents in mind specifically.

The city ordinance was the result of discussions between the city area planners and county and city residents.
Some, like Eric Cure of Scott Township, had concerns for using agricultural land for a solar farm.

“It's not that I'm against solar, but I'm for the preservation of our farmland; this farmland in northern Vanderburgh county is some of the most productive in the country," Cure said. "And that's a very hard combination to find is good climate and good soil. And once it's gone, and once the topsoil has been moved, it doesn't come back.”

According to resident Jean Webb who was also involved in drafting this ordinance, it allows for "Agri-solar," where crops are grown around solar arrays in fields. Community and large scale operations are required to have proper screening such as "walls" of evergreen trees from residential areas.

“I am passionate about fighting climate change," Webb said. "… so our compromise was really getting the solar where it needs to be. But screening it and giving itself setbacks, so it'd be more acceptable to neighbors and to people in the rural areas.”

In many cases, applicants for solar arrays will need Board of Zoning Appeals Approval for a special use permit, unless the land is already zoned for industrial use.