Peru solar park

Wabash Valley Power, a not-for-profit wholesale provider of electricity, and Miami-Cass REMC dedicated a new solar site in Peru on Thursday, September 14, 2017, at 2 p.m. as part of its three-state Co-op Solar program. Kelly Lafferty Gerber | Kokomo Tribune

PERU – Miami County has approved its first solar energy ordinance that officials say aims to encourage the development of solar parks in the county while protecting the health and safety of nearby residents.

The Miami County Planning Commission last week unanimously approved the ordinance. County commissioners on Monday followed suite by unanimously voting to adopt the ordinance.

The ordinance now requires solar farms to build at least 25 feet from non-participating landowners and 150 feet from non-participating residential dwellings, but that setback requirement may be waived in writing by participating landowners.

Developers of large solar parks must pay a $10,000 application fee. Prior to any construction, the applicant must also pay a permit fee of $1,750 per megawatt, not to exceed $40,000.

Commissioner Larry West, who wrote the ordinance, said the application and permitting fees will pay the cost of the county’s building commissioner, or an outside inspector, to ensure a solar development meets all the requirements set out in the new ordinance.

“With a large solar farm, there are so many requirements that we would probably have to have either our county building inspector spend a lot of time making sure they were following all the requirements, or we might have to hire somebody to do that,” he said. “That’s why there’s a big cost associated with the permit.”

West said he decided to author the county’s first solar ordinance after some residents and landowners said they would be open to leasing or selling their property for a solar development. That came after the planning commission revised the county’s wind ordinance to make it nearly impossible for any new wind development.

“The revisions basically eliminated Miami County for those types of systems,” West said in an email. “The residents suggested solar as an acceptable alternative to wind, so that resulted in the solar ordinance being prepared.”

Commissioner Alan Hunt said it’s important to have a solar ordinance in place to ensure any new development wouldn’t adversely impact nearby landowners.

“We approved this so some big company couldn’t come in and just do whatever they wanted, or put in a solar farm without any county guidance,” he said. “Now, there are guidelines to follow and something in place to protect landowners.”

Hunt said although many in the county were opposed to a wind farm, he believes residents would be more open to a solar development.

“They’re not as unsightly as wind turbines,” he said. “The immediate neighbors would see it and might have some opposition to it, but anyone more than half a mile away wouldn’t be aware of it. It shouldn’t affect their style of life.”

Now, West said, he thinks the county is ripe for some kind of solar development. He said one company reached out earlier this year to ask if the county had a solar ordinance, and was potentially considering the county for a solar park in the future.

“I felt like that was even more of an impetus to get things going,” West said. “It just seemed like the opportunity was coming for more solar … Solar is going to becoming more and more popular, and I felt like it was time to get ahead of the game a little bit.”

West said he crafted the new ordinance using regulations and guidelines that other counties have approved. The only part of the ordinance specific to Miami County is the requirement that all applications be submitted to the Grissom Air Reserve Base Installation Encroachment Management Team Coordinator, who will determine whether the proposed project will create an interference or hazard at the base.

The coordinator will also determine whether the project would interfere with military surveillance radar or communications equipment used by the Department of Defense.

The ordinance also regulates personal solar energy equipment, which cannot be more than 20 feet tall and must be designed and located to prevent glare toward any inhabited buildings or adjacent properties, as well as adjacent highways or right-of-ways. Residents must pay a $100 application fee to install a solar energy system.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.