AUBURN — The DeKalb County Commissioners Monday continued discussing proposed revisions to the county’s solar ordinance and agreed to move forward with sending it to the DeKalb County Plan Commission for its review.
Proposed “red-lined” revisions were presented by Commissioner Mike Watson and were discussed and, in some cases, further modified by Watson and Commissioners William Hartman and Todd Sanderson, at the Jan. 17 commissioners’ meeting.
Chris Gaumer, director of development services for the county, incorporated the commissioners’ proposed revisions into a version that was further discussed Monday.
According to the most recent “red-lined” version, the total area in DeKalb County designated as a Commercial Solar Energy Systems Overlay District shall not exceed 6,000 acres with and without solar panels.
The proposed revisions also include language on setbacks from adjacent, non-participating landowners with a pre-existing residential dwelling.
If on one side of the dwelling, CSES solar panels shall be at least 400 feet with a buffer from the foundation of the primary structure. If on two sides, the solar panels shall be 600 feet from the structure foundation with no buffer required.
If on three sides of the property, solar panels shall be at least 800 feet from the foundation, with no buffer required.
If on all sides of the property, solar panels shall be at least 1,000 feet, including across the road, from the foundation, with no buffer required.
“I like the way it’s written,” said Sanderson, adding the proposed setbacks give “some breathing room” for properties that have panels on more than one side.
The commissioners agreed developers and non-participating adjacent landowners could negotiate agreements for setbacks to be reduced, but that the county would not be involved in the negotiation process.
Andrew Provines of the 3900 block of C.R. 75, said neighbors are not equipped to negotiate with large developers and that the county should have to help broker those deals.
“I don’t think that we can intercede with any kind of a private agreement,” Watson said. “I certainly would not be in favor of that at all.”
“If the neighbors all want to agree, on their own, I’m not going to get into the negotiation process. But if all non-participating landowners want to work with them (developers) and sign up for a different solution … I have no problem with that. I just don’t want to be involved with the negotiations because it will be a nightmare,” said Sanderson.
“I think we set a standard, and it there’s deviation from the standard, put the ball in their court. You work out the deviation. I’m not going to work the deviation out,” Sanderson said.
“Now, with that said, I’ve said many times if I don’t like a project, I just don’t think it’s good use of the land, it’s in the wrong spot, whatever, I’ll just say no to it period. There isn’t going to be any discussion there.”
“I tend to agree,” Hartman said.
Responding to a question from a member of the public, the commissioners agreed that screening would apply to substations as well as solar panels.
Trena Roudebush, representing the Scuplin solar project, presented visual examples of screenings that the solar developer had installed on other projects.
She described it as a “collaborative process” that allows latitude to make the screening appropriate.
She said the developer treats each project as its “own being” and each site is different.
On the issue of screening, commissioners agreed to change language from “complete screening” to screening that is reasonable or adequate.
The commissioners also agreed to a revision that requires wildlife corridors and that fences shall not obstruct wildlife corridors.
Ginger Miller, a resident of the 7300 block of C.R. 46, addressed the issue of property values.
Miller cited a license appraiser in a different state who has complied case studies on various aspects of industrial solar.
“She concluded that there is up to a 30% property value decline regarding properties within close proximity of an industrial solar site,” Miller said.
“I’m a local realtor and I’ve talked to many local appraisers. I believe it could be even higher than 30%, especially regarding the properties closest to these plants.”
Miller also addressed the issue of property rights.
“We obviously all want to protect property rights. However, neighbors or non-participating owners have property rights as well,” Miller said.
She provided the commissioners with photos depicting serene landscapes, and then photos of industrial solar.
“This is not what one wants to see in rural DeKalb County,” she said of the industrial solar images.
“Two of those photos show personal homes right next to industrial solar. This is what it will actually look like. … This will drive DeKalb County residents out and property values to decline tremendously for those who are in close proximity of these industrial sites,” Miller said.
“One of you said in the last commissioner meeting that you could deny any project if it’s not the best use,” Miller went on.
“There are many areas of the country and here in Indiana denying solar because they know it’s not efficient power. It’s not worth the destruction of acres and acres of good, producing farm ground and the many other valid concerns. Please do not allow industrial solar here.”
A further revised edition of the ordinance will be drawn up for the commissioners, based on Monday’s discussion, and come back to the commissioners before being forwarded to the plan commission.
Final adoption of any revisions will go back to the commissioners.