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No Bites Yet On County Solar Ordinance

CPE Solar Array-1.jpg
Tim Jagielo
The commercial solar array on Morgan Avenue in Evansville. Such projects require permits through both Vanderburgh County and the City of Evansville. This project was installed pre-ordinance though the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Commercial Projects require permitting process — residential and community arrays do not

The Vanderburgh County Commission passed their solar ordinance in late June — but so far there have been no permits pulled for commercial projects.

Under both ordinances, there are three “levels” of solar projects: residential, community and commercial. The commercial level is the only one that requires a permit from the Plan Commission.

Ron London is the executive director of the Area Plan Commission.

“We've not really had any large solar arrays or anything come through,” he said. “I know Centerpoint at some point in time, my assumption would be that they are probably going to look at doing some projects, but we've not heard anything from them either.”

Right now there are two solar farms in the area, one on Morgan Avenue and US 41 and one on Volkman Street, also off U-S 41. Both are run by CenterPoint Energy.

London said it will be difficult to gauge interest in small-scale solar projects because no permit is required, but such an ordinance puts this area on the forward edge of renewable energy.

“I think this was a good step forward,” he said. “I think a lot of the larger communities are realizing that, you know, this is an important process to have a plan in place instead of just make shifting on the fly.”

He means that now there’s a proper ordinance in place instead of handling each project on a case by case basis.

Both the city and county ordinances were created because until this spring, solar projects were allowed piecemeal through the Board of Zoning Appeals.

CPE Solar Array-2.jpg
Tim Jagielo
According to CenterPoint Energy, this array has 8,000 solar panels, which can power 400 homes.

Both the City of Evansville and Vanderburgh County ordinances are similar. They’re both drafted from the “Model Solar Ordinance” created by the Great Plains Institute.

The county ordinance placed emphasis on protecting farmland in the rural areas.

Again, the largest projects permitted under the solar ordinance are more than 10 acres, and would likely be run by a utility company for profit. This was an area of focus by the local committee that drafted the ordinances.

“I think a large focus was on that large-scale solar. Because, you had different parts of the community that were worried about, you know, taking up farm ground, which is, you know, precious here in the state of Indiana.”

London said “remediation” of large commercial-scale projects was a point of discussion.

“If you had a solar field, and the solar project lasted for 20 or 30 years, and then they decided to drop the project, or the solar panels were having to be replaced, and the company just decided not to spend the money on doing that. They wanted something in place to make sure that that ground that was disturbed that good farm ground that was disturbed, would get put back.”

Prior to the finalizing of the city ordinance, Eric Cure of Scott Township had concerns.

“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,” he said after the city law was passed. “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, the law allows for ‘Agri-solar,’ where crops are grown around solar arrays in fields.