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Lake Co. considers solar farm ordinance

Crown Point Star

As the Lake County Plan Commission considers a solar panel farm ordinance, NIPSCO announced two new solar farms that will be based in central Indiana.

Last month, on July 15, the plan commission held a public hearing to discuss an ordinance that would require public hearings for solar panel farm projects. The ordinance that the plan commission discussed was an amended version of an ordinance the Lake County Council considered that wouldn't require public hearings for such projects.

If approved, the amended ordinance would apply to all future solar panel farm project proposals, not just a recently proposed 1,400-acre solar panel farm in Eagle Creek Township, officials have said.

In April, Invenergy, a Chicago-based company that works in wind, solar, natural gas and energy storage, proposed to build a 200-megawatt panel farm by 2024, Katya Samoteskul, manager of renewable development for Invenergy, previously said.

When the company presented its proposal to the Lake County Council, it passed a resolution - to be considered by the Plan Commission - that would make solar panel farms a permitted use, said council attorney Ray Szarmach.

Under a permitted use, solar farm panel projects would - in the most simple terms - allow project managers to file paperwork to establish the solar farm within a special area without holding a public hearing, said Ned Kovachevich, director of the Lake County Plan Commission.

But, consultants hired by the Lake County Commissioners have proposed solar panel farms as a special exception, Szarmach said. Under a special exception, such projects would require a public hearing, Kovachevich said.

After learning about the consultant's recommendation, which officials said the council wasn't aware of until after it approved its resolution, the council voted to rescinded its June 16 resolution so that the plan commission can consider the consultant's recommendation.

At the plan commission public hearing July 15, residents shared their concerns about buffering, set backs and environmental impacts with solar panel farms for the commissioners to consider as the ordinance is drafted, said Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-2nd.

Resident Mike Lee, whose son lives near where the proposed solar farm would be built, said he attended the plan commission public hearing, where residents shared concerns about run-off and flooding associated with the project.

"I don't see any benefits for the county out of this," Lee said. "They aren't explaining any benefits to us."

The commissioners will likely take action on the ordinance at its Aug. 19 meeting, Tippy said.

"We decided to defer so that we could look into the points that the public made. We're hoping at the next meeting to discuss the points and see if they can be incorporated (in the ordinance) and take action, one way of the other," Tippy said.

Invenergy representatives also attended the meeting to learn about how the ordinance is being shaped, Tippy said. But, he said that the plan commission has not received a project proposal from the company, which would be the first step to initiate the project.

Samoteskul, of Invenergy, said in a statement that the company "is happy to see a process that is open for public input and transparent."

"It was helpful to see the first draft of the ordinance, and we look forward to seeing it further refined and exacted. We will continue to work with landowners interested in participating in the solar project and community members to move the project forward," Samoteskul said in the statement.

Meanwhile, NIPSCO recently announced that it will establish new solar farms in central Indiana as part of the company's "Your Energy, Your Future" initiative, which focuses on "a more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy mix for the future," according to a press release.

The Brickyard Solar is a 200 megawatt solar farm project with 675,000 solar panels in Boone County, according to the news release.

The Greensboro Solar will provide 100 megawatts of solar power along with 30 megawatts of battery storage in Henry County, according to the press release. The project will have 329,500 solar panels, according to the release.

NIPSCO finalized two 20-year purchase power agreements with subsidiaries of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, a renewable energy developer, for the electricity generated in the two solar farm projects, according to the release.

"Renewable energy technology continues to advance and it plays an essential role in our progression toward providing lower-cost energy resources, while maintaining the reliability our customers expect," NIPSCO President Mike Hooper said in the statement.


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