PRINCETON — New solar and wind energy ordinances that regulate licensing conditions in Gibson County were approved Tuesday by Gibson County Commissioners.
The ordinances were introduced for public comment two weeks ago, and presented for second reading at the regular evening meeting at the North Annex.
They were adopted as stand-alone ordinances in lieu of a countywide zoning ordinance was was rescinded in February by the board.
Attorney Grant Swartzentruber said some minor revisions were made relating to comments made at the public hearing during the first reading of the solar ordinance, including issues such as vegetation screening, the distance between a home a solar structure, people not knowing about particular project in general.
“We have reviewed it and find it very thorough and tough ... it will be beneficial to the county and residents,” said Rick Reed, a local spokesman for solar farm developer Tenaska, which has a solar farm proposal pending.
Swartzentruber said there are provisions in the ordinance that increase the licensing fee from the $25,000 in the rescinded zoning ordinance to $50,000 in the solar ordinance, as well as provisions for other economic benefits to the county, “So, it’s more strict than the items in the original zoning ordinance,” he told commissioners. “I applaud you for the time and input put in on it.”
Attorney Josh Claybourn, who worked on the wind turbine licensing ordinance, noted that House Bill 1381 is still pending before the Indiana Legislature. “That will be really a blanket approach throughout the state,” he said, superceding local regulation. “Every county and municipality throughout the state will have to do it,” he said. “Counties and municipalities have lobbied against it and utilities are lobbying for it,” he said of the proposed state regulations. While the local ordinance may need to be amended in the future, he said “This provides a nice framework to start from.”
“I’m in no way against solar. I still have my questions about what kind of water this holds if we have House Bill 1381 or not,” said Commissioner Mary Key. “It’s a form of zoning. I still have concerns about it, but it is what it is.”
Claybourn said the county ordinance is far more restrictive than the proposed state legislation.
Commissioner Ken Montgomery offered a motion, supported by Board of Commissioners President Warren Fleetwood, to adopt the two ordinances. Key cast the dissenting vote, “based on my concerns about what kind of legal standing it would have in the future,” she said.
Commissioners also voted unanimously to terminate the contract of Kahn, Dees, Donovan and Kahn, the legal firm hired for the county’s zoning exploration over the past three years.
“The county council has already expressed in a letter that they are to perform no further work, but I believe it’s time for commissioners to officially terminate the KDDK contract,” said Fleetwood.
“If the council’s not going to pay, we’ve got no way to keep them on,” agreed Montgomery.
“That was for zoning, and that was what they were hired for,” said Key. “I see no reason to carry a contract we’re not going to use and I don’t think they would expect us to.”
Commissioners also approved, by a 2-1 vote with Key dissenting, to adopt on second reading a resolution to stay the work of the Gibson County Advisory Plan Commission, which conducted the hearings and work sessions to develop the recently rescinded zoning ordinance.