Auburn Renewables Solar Field

The Auburn Renewables solar field project southwest of the city is moving forward with the brackets in place to hold the solar panels. The project borders Interstate 69 on the east side and C.R. 19 on the west side. The project is the only current large scale project in the county, because it lies inside the city’s light-industrial zoning district. The DeKalb County Plan Commission will vote on the county’s solar ordinance during tonight’s meeting at 7 p.m. at the DeKalb County Courthouse.

AUBURN — After months of discussion and tweaks, the county’s commercial solar ordinance will be presented to the DeKalb County Plan Commission for its consideration tonight.

After an August informational meeting at Eastside High School — which was attended by around 50 residents — tweaks were made to the original document to clarify several issues.

Chris Gaumer, director/zoning administrator for DeKalb County, said those tweaks just clarified questions residents voiced during the informational meeting.

Residents were also encouraged to submit questions to the development services’ office via email after the meeting.

Gaumer said the county received several inquiries from the general public on the new ordinance, which will allow for the establishment of commercial solar energy systems overlay districts within the county.

The first change to the document came with the clarifying of the district’s intent. That language reads:

“The Commercial Solar Energy Systems Overlay District is intended to establish standards for the safety and compatibility for the occupants of the land in the immediate vicinity of a Commercial Solar Energy System (Solar Field) by setting development standards that supplement or supersede the underlying Zoning District. This overlay district does not regulate small-scale, private solar panels on residential or agricultural land and/or structures that is not sold commercially to a utility but rather is used for personal energy consumption.”

Changes also were made to the decommissioning language requiring companies to recycle as much of the material as possible when decommissioning the units. The life span of a project is estimated at 30 years.

Gaumer said a somewhat major change to the ordinance came in the form of setback restrictions.

Setbacks may be reduced by half (200 feet) if a 30-foot wide landscape buffer is utilized and written acceptance is received by the adjacent non-participating property owner. A setback plan shall address the size of the setbacks from non-participating property owners, the size and placement of required landscape buffers, fence location and maintenance responsibility.

The county began working on the ordinance earlier this year after several companies made inquiries about wanting to bring projects to DeKalb County. It has been rumored that a company is looking at leasing land around the Butler area for a solar installation.

The DeKalb County Commissioners currently have a moratorium in place putting a hold on any projects in the county until the ordinance is complete. The only current project that is underway is being done by Auburn Renewables, which is constructing a 55-acre solar farm southwest of Auburn on C.R. 19.

The construction of the project is allowed to move forward despite being outside of the city limits because it sits inside of the city’s light-industrial zoning district.

During the August informational meeting, three companies provided information about ongoing projects in other states. Those companies included Geenex Solar of Charlotte, North Carolina, Lightsource BP headquartered in the United Kingdom and Leeward Energy headquartered in Dallas.

All three presenters hinted at proposed projects within the county, but did not give any details on size or location during the meeting.

Gaumer said if the ordinance is approved, companies need to come in prepared.

He said they need to be able to work hand in hand with property owners to make projects successful.

“We want them to do their homework and come to compromises with property owners,” Gaumer said. “We don’t want to have people up in arms. They need to be good stewards of their neighbors.”

The revised ordinance, along with questions and answers from the local public and American Clean Power, can be found on the development services’ website, co.dekalb.in.us/department/index.php?structureid=137.

Gaumer said questions and responses from the three energy companies will also be published on the site in the coming days.

If the ordinance is approved during Wednesday night’s meeting, it will then move onto the DeKalb County Commissioners for approval on Sept. 27. Tonight’s meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the Commissioner’s Courtroom on the second floor of the DeKalb County Courthouse.

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