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Howard County BZA grants special exception for Locomotive Solar farm

  • Mar 31, 2023
Kokomo Tribune

Mar. 31—A proposed solar farm for eastern Howard County overcame a hurdle Tuesday that brings it one step closer to construction.

The Howard County Board of Zoning Appeals voted 3-2 to grant a special exception permit to Ranger Power to construct a commercial solar farm just east of the town of Greentown.

Board members Michael Schroeder, Russell Hopkins and Greg Tipton were the "yes" votes, while Richard Byrum and Mike Imbler voted "no."

Colin Snow, senior development manager for the Chicago-based Ranger Power, said in a statement provided to the Tribune after the meeting the company "is grateful" for the BZA's approval.

"Our team has appreciated working with Howard County and meeting so many members of the community over the past months," Snow said in a statement. "The county's Solar Ordinance positions the county to take advantage of renewable energy generation to help meet growing energy needs in the state while protecting the interests of neighbors and the community. We will continue to work with the County and within the requirements of the Ordinance."

Tuesday's vote is identical to the BZA's decision a month ago when it approved by the same 3-2 vote a special exception permit request from ENGIE, which is also planning to construct a commercial solar farm, dubbed Emerald Green Solar, east of Greentown.

Also identical to last month's BZA meeting regarding ENGIE was much of the public comment during the two and half hour meeting held in the large meeting room in the basement of the Howard County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St.

Approximately 20 people — with roughly half for the project and the other half against — spoke during public comment. Another 17 letters of support, including from Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore, were put into the record by Ranger Power.

Proponents of Locomotive Solar largely highlighted the project's estimated economic impact and property tax revenues and their desire for Howard County to participate in the growing renewable energy market.

Sam Carpenter, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said he supported the project because it would be part of a "necessary transition" the state must take from using fossil fuels for its energy needs to more renewable energy sources.

"Now, you can believe in global warming or not believe in global warming, it doesn't matter," Carpenter said. "There's a market for renewable energy. There's an expectation, demand from businesses that they want that power supply available for them."

Rachel Rath of Kokomo told the BZA she supported the project for a number of reasons, including that she believes it would help the state meet its growing energy demands.

"Additionally, every year summers are getting hotter caused by a changing climate, which requires more energy to power our grid ... it is now more than ever that we have cheap energy sources like solar," Rath said.

Opponents of the solar farm largely cited concerns over neighboring property values, potential drainage issues caused by the installation of the solar farm and the loss of arable land.

Brian Key, of rural Howard County and husband of Gina Key, of the real estate agency The Key Team, said the agency tried to sell a house in the solar farm project area and had three out of four buyers under contract walk away when they found out a solar farm was possibly being built nearby.

"This green energy scam cut out three of the four buyers for this house ... so it is injurious to property values," Brian Key said. "It minuses the number of people willing to buy your house."

Jason Kuchmay, of Fort Wayne law firm Snyder Morgan Federoff & Kuchmay, argued the BZA should not approve the special exception permit request because he believes the project would be more harmful than beneficial to the neighboring property owners. Kuchmay is representing a number of neighboring property owners and the group Howard County Citizens Against Big Solar.

"Frankly, you should need a study to confirm what's obvious — that people don't want to live near an industrial utility and don't want to look out their window and stare at thousands upon thousands of solar panels," he said.


Locomotive Solar, according to Ranger Power, is a 200MW commercial solar project that will take up a total of approximately 2,000 acres in the general area around the Duke-owned Greentown substation. Of those 2,000 acres, the project fence will surround approximately 1,700 acres, and within that fenced area, approximately 600 acres will actually house the solar panels.

Ranger Power, in its application, stated the project is an estimated $250 million investment and will generate an estimated 200-300 temporary construction jobs during the 18-month construction time and three to six full-time jobs for operation and maintenance once complete.

The company also estimated the project will generate approximately $55 million in property taxes over its life, which is expected to be 30-35 years. After the project's lifespan, Ranger Power says it will convert the land back to tillable farmland.

The solar farm will have to adhere to the Howard County solar ordinance passed by the county commissioners in late 2021.

Those regulations include a setback of 300 feet from any permanent structure more than 250 square feet in size on a non-participating property owner's land, 50 feet from the right of way of state highways and 40 feet from the right of way of other roads.

The ordinance also requires large scale commercial solar projects to adhere to county landscape and buffering regulations, with any trees or similar vegetation planted as a buffer having to be at least four feet in height and one placed every eight feet. No barbed wire fences are allowed to be used as fencing and a decommissioning bond must be setup that will cover 125% of the cost of decommissioning.

Snow said Ranger Power would meet or exceed the county's solar ordinance.

The company is also offering "good neighbor" agreements to adjacent non-participating landowners. The payments, according to the company's special exception permit application, will include a $1,000 payment upon signing and another $10,000 within 45 days of the beginning of construction.

Locomotive Solar is the second publicly announced large-scale commercial solar project planning to be built in Howard County.

The other, Emerald Green Solar proposed by ENGIE, is a 200MW, 1,800-acre commercial solar farm also on land near the Greentown Substation. Of those 1,800 acres, ENGIE says 1,300 acres will be covered with solar panels.

Both companies said their desire to operate a solar farm east of Greentown is due to the land's proximity to the Duke Energy-owned substation. The proximity to the substation means additional infrastructure, such as new transmission lines, are not needed.


The approval of the special exception permit is the first step of a multistep process before the solar farm can begin construction and operations.

The company must also get drainage approval, road use approval, stormwater plan approval, decommissioning plan approval, development plan approval from the Howard County Plan Commission and economic development agreement approval.

Because of the number of approvals still needed and the uncertainty as to when those approvals may come, Snow said the construction timeline for Locomotive Solar is unclear at this point in time.

For the same reason, many project details, such as where access roads or inverters will be placed are also uncertain, though Snow said Tuesday that inverters will be placed "well away" from project boundaries.

There is also a possibility that opponents of the project will appeal the BZA's decision in court. Anyone who believes they have standing to file an appeal must do so within 30 days of the BZA's decision.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.


(c)2023 the Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Ind.)

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