Solar farm planned near Potato Creek State Park

NORTH LIBERTY, Ind. -- Amanda Mitchell first learned about the Dumont Solar project in North Liberty when developers came to her door.

"Developers came to my doorstep and asked to put an easement on our property," she said. 

This left her curious about the project, so she dove in and found out plans for a large solar farm are in the works. ABC57 confirmed these plans. The site spans over 2,500 acres and 40 parcels of land between downtown North Liberty and Potato Creek State Park.  

"They've been working on this since 2021, if at least 2021, and a lot of our neighbors had no clue that this is happening," Mitchell said.

She talked to neighbors who share her concerns, ranging from the aesthetic to the impact on wildlife. She says the issue isn't renewable energy, its solar farms, especially one so close to the vast nature preserve. She helped start Rethink Industrial Solar St. Joseph County to mobilize concerned residents.

"It's not about an individual having the solar, it's about a large corporation that comes in and industrializes the solar, without thinking about the impacts on the community," she said, "and we also lose control over that because that leased land-- the owners don't get a say anymore."

Mitchell blames the lack of transparency on a 2020 county law which allows renewable energy projects to be classified as "agricultural," so deals can be made without getting permits, and therefore a public say, first.

Plus, she said, the town of North Liberty is heavily investing in an inn at Potato Creek State Park, the area's biggest economic driver.

"Who wants to come to rural North Liberty when it's all solar farms?" Mitchell said. 

Scott Remer, Senior Director of Development for Hexagon Energy, the company behind the project, said ground probably wouldn't break until 2027, that's how early in the planning stages the project is.

Remer explained the location was chosen for its proximity to the Dumont substation (hence the name for the Dumont Solar Site). He said it's one of the largest in the entire country, so the farm's electricity would go right to the grid.

Plus, he said the county laws and the landowners leasing their farmland are nothing but amenable to a project like this.

He said he resents the idea any planning was done in secret. 

"That's just really not the case," he said. "We've been open about this for a couple of years now. We haven't sent out any formal notices yet and that's simply because the project hasn't needed any formal county meetings."

He confirmed roughly two dozen lease agreements have been signed between Hexagon and landowners.

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