St. Joseph County Council members calling for a pause on solar plans

NOW: St. Joseph County Council members calling for a pause on solar plans

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- The debate over renewable energy continues as North Liberty residents mobilize against plans for a 2,500-acre solar project in St. Joseph County.

Now, County Council members are pushing for a solar moratorium, which would pause plans for the Dumont Solar Project.

Some residents fear what a solar farm so close to Potato Creek State Park could mean for the natural environment and local tourism. Their biggest complaint, however, is they didn't know the plans were in the works. That's because of county policies.

County Council Member Amy Drake responded to protests against the project from groups like Rethink Industrial Solar St. Joseph County.

"We started, actually, before all this North Liberty explosion kind of occurred, where a lot of people found out solar was coming. And they were getting really nervous about it. But we had already had some solar improvements to the rules coming down the pipeline," Drake said. "So, we want to still push forward these changes, but we also want to call for a moratorium so we can more thoughtfully consider where we should be that makes everybody in the community more comfortable with solar."

She echoed concerns raised by neighbors.

"What's different about the North Liberty project is the solar isn't one square. The solar is kind of here and there and all over. And the houses are scattered where the solar is. And no one wants to be surrounded by solar," Drake said. "So, we really need to be thoughtful, and we just think a moratorium is the way to do that."

But the biggest complaint from residents is they didn't know a solar project was coming. That's because of a 2020 county ordinance that does not require farmland to be rezoned before leasing to a solar company.

"They wanted the solar companies from all over to come here in St. Joseph County and develop," Drake said. "Now, that's something that went through, no one was apparently paying attention when it did. Now, people see that these solar installations are going to come into their neighborhoods, they're nervous."

At Tuesday's Area Plan Commission, regulations to the county's solar ordinance will get their second reading.

"These initial changes going through would require you to get a zoning change in order to put solar up on farmland," Drake said.

ABC57 sent the press release calling for a moratorium to representatives at Hexagon Energy, the group behind the Dumont Solar Project.

They replied with the following statement:

"Given that St. Joe County already has an existing solar ordinance and is already working through a revision to it, a moratorium is redundant. We hope that St. Joe County will honor the rules it has already set in place and not be swayed unnecessarily by a vocal minority. Solar projects, when designed well, provide power, jobs, income to farmers, tens of millions in tax revenue to the county, and a host of other environmental and agricultural benefits."

ABC57 reached out to all the other County Council members as well for comment. Dan Schaetzle responded with the following statement:

"The council needs to set specific requirements for solar fields and then have the ability to say yes or no to individual projects based on their merit and through a special use permit. A moratorium only kicks the can down the road. Our constituents did not elect us to avoid problems but rather to solve them. I have worked with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most effective solutions for our county and its citizens, and that is what I will do in this case as well."

Stay tuned on ABC57 News for a follow-up to this story, focusing on the perspective of representatives from Hexagon Energy.

The changes to the county solar ordinance will get their second reading at Tuesday's Area Plan Commission meeting. That will take place at the County-City Building at 227 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Room 411.

The meeting can also be livestreamed. The agenda and Zoom link to livestream can be found here.

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