5 Things to Know About Solar Farms with Restrictions in St. Joseph County

5 Things to Know About Solar Farms with Restrictions in St. Joseph County

Here are five things you need to know after the St. Joseph County City Council passed new restrictions and requirements for commercial solar farms on Tuesday.

Final vote: As more solar parks quietly come online, council approves restrictions, but no moratorium

How big are the solar farms planned for North Liberty?

Virginia-based Hexagon Energy so far plans to install solar panels on 2,300 to 2,500 acres of farmland that it would lease from local property owners, said Scott Remer, senior director of development for Hexagon. The parcels are spread across the North Liberty area. Together, they would generate 300 megawatts — enough to power 50,000 homes — and would feed power to the nearby Dumont Power Station, known as one of the most powerful substations in the U.S.

But Remer also said it will be another two years before the solar panels are installed. Before that can happen, he said, it has to be deemed feasible by the PJM organization, which coordinates power in a grid from New Jersey and Washington, D.C., to North Carolina to South Bend and Chicago. Remer said he is one of two Hexagon employees working on the North Liberty project. He said they have committed to talking to neighbors to address their concerns.

Will Hexagon’s project be across the road from Potato Creek State Park?

Initially, neighbors indicated that the company was planning solar fields directly south of Potato Creek State Park along Indiana 4. But a more recent Hexagon map shows nothing along Indiana 4. All of the scattered parcels with Hexagon leases are south of there.

Where else are solar farms in St. Joseph County?

St. Joseph County already has two large-scale solar projects: the Honeysuckle Solar Farm on about 1,000 acres near New Carlisle and Indiana Michigan Power’s 210-acre solar farm in Granger.

But county officials said Tuesday that other companies are planning solar farms. On Monday, four such companies, including Hexagon, filed applications with the county for building permits and commercial plan reviews.

Which Indiana counties have a solar farm moratorium?

In central Indiana, Boone County officials passed such a moratorium on solar farms this year. LaPorte County officials are drafting one. And Marshall County officials are considering one.

A resolution calling for a one-year moratorium was defeated Tuesday by the St. Joseph County Council in a 4-5 vote. Sponsors like Councilwoman Amy Drake said it would have given the county more time to study the potential impact of solar projects.

What additional restrictions does the council want to implement?

The council voted unanimously to ask the county Area Plan Commission to draft the following. If the APC does so, the council must approve them:

∎ An additional requirement would be that solar panels be at least 500 feet away from a “non-participating” neighbor’s home, instead of the 250 feet the council approved Tuesday. The panels would also have to be at least 150 feet away from that neighbor’s property line.

∎ In addition, the panels must be installed at least 45 metres away from a plot of land designated for agriculture or used for agriculture.

∎ The panels must also be installed at least 150 metres away from a public or private park or nature reserve.

∎ A fully landscaped buffer zone would be required along the property line of residential properties, parks and natural areas.

∎ The solar project manager would have to repair any damage the solar installation might cause to waterways, ditches, and drainage tiles. Solar farms would also be overseen by the county drainage board.

You can reach South Bend Tribune reporter Joseph Dits at 574-235-6158 or [email protected].