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Solar ordinance now heads back to commissioners with blessing from APC

Vincennes Sun-Commercial

Knox County Commission president Kellie Streeter says they will take into consideration concerns expressed by representatives with solar energy companies at Tuesday's meeting of the Area Plan Commission.

Both Dan Farrell, a project development manager with Miami-based Origis Energy, and local resident Kent Utt, who is now serving as a consultant for Tenaska, another solar company located in Nebraska, spoke before members of the APC as they considered yet again a proposed solar ordinance, one that would regulate the development of solar energy systems in Knox County.

Farrell wanted to lessen the financial burden on solar companies by delaying the establishment of a decommissioning security bond until 20 years after the solar farm is constructed.

Utt asked that the county consider allowing for a preliminary permit, of sorts, so solar companies aren't out hundreds of thousands of dollars in engineering costs only to see the county decline an application later.

APC members acknowledged that they were somewhat valid concerns - and listened to near three hours of discussion - but in the end, per the advice of legal counsel, decided they couldn't make any changes to the ordinance.

They would leave that up to the commissioners.

"They decided they couldn't change the ordinance," Streeter explained. "But since both myself and commissioner (Trent) Hinkle were there, they told us we could take the information back to our table to consider any other recommendations or changes.

"And we will."

Streeter said she thought both Farrell and Utt made "several good points," ones that the commissioners should at least consider when they take back up the legislation when they meet again on Aug. 18.

"It was a long meeting, but it was also one more chance to absorb the ordinance itself and how the Area Plan Commission feels about it.

"I think, overall, it was beneficial."

Farrell's argument Tuesday was that many other, similar ordinances - ones in Indiana and elsewhere - require a decommissioning security bond, which essentially pays to clean up an abandoned solar farm should the company itself be unable to do it, years down the road; he recommended 20 years out.

The sooner a county requires that bond, the more expensive the project becomes on the front end. And that, Farrell said, makes a solar company less competitive in the overall market.

He also argued that the equipment and the ground left behind, if sold, would be more than enough to cover decommissioning costs.

Utt, likewise, said Tenaska is struggling in that a detailed design plan would be required in order to secure a permit.

Tenaska is concerned, Utt said, that they would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on engineering costs only to be denied a permit later, so he is asking for a kind of staggered approach, one wherein a preliminary plan could be approved first - a final one later.

APC chairman Dick Vermillion, however, mirrored those concerns, wondering about a scenario where the county gives approval to a plan that, in the end, doesn't meet the ordinance's requirements.

The APC on Tuesday opted to give the ordinance a favorable recommendation, so it will now go back to the commissioners for further consideration.

In its current form, the ordinance does include a compromise between the APC and the commissioners, which has to do with how far a solar panel should be located from the next-closest structure.

Initially, the ordinance - which was drafted by Barnes and Thornburg in Indianapolis as well as APC executive director Colt Michaels - marked that as 100 feet. The APC changed it to 300 feet.

The commissioners two weeks ago set it at 200 feet, and the APC on Tuesday agreed to leave it.

Should the commissioners agree to make any more changes, those, too, would have to go back before the APC for review.

Ultimately, it will be up to the commissioners to pass the legislation.

Currently, Tenaska is looking to build a $110 million solar farm in southern Knox County. While it wouldn't bring many new jobs, it would provide additional tax revenue to the county.

It's also possible the county could secure a one-time payment of federal tax dollars aimed at bolstering communities who invest in green energies.


Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Aug 7, 2020 1:28 pm GMT

This seems very anti solar. Who pays to decommission a Nuclear plant? The Utiltiy. A Solar plant should be the same way. If it's good non toxic panels they could offer them to the public and people who take them in a week or less. In fact panels get stolen at times in some areas. If they are toxic panels like 1st Solar makes I would never even use them to start with . Yet if they did use them 1st Solar has the burden and expense to remove and recycle them.

  Issues like these are why we need a National Policy for Solar and Net-Metering. Without that each area reinvent the wheel and makes it square and it goes flat. 

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