EVANSVILLE, Ind. — A possible code amendment some saw as anti-solar power likely won’t be considered anytime soon.
A draft ordinance that would have placed commercial solar developments under Vanderburgh County’s zoning code provoked a flurry of concerns and confusion when it surfaced last week.
Unsupported by two of the county’s three commissioners, the ordinance was withdrawn from consideration.
Currently, land use decisions for energy production projects of any kind are considered a special use. As such, proposed projects must petition the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals for approval.
Indiana’s solar energy industry was one of the fastest-growing in the nation just three years ago. But a state law eliminating “net metering” changed all that.
Dwight Adams and Emily Hopkins, Wochit
Commissioner Jeff Hatfield said he agreed to propose the change after hearing from some residents during last year’s election. Hatfield represents northern Vanderburgh County where a company is reportedly interested in locating a commercial solar generation facility.
Area Plan Commission Assistant Director Blaine Oliver said Thursday the Board of Zoning Appeals has not received any special use petitions for a solar project.
“During the campaign last year a group of residents asked me to help make land use decisions for energy production more open to public input,” Hatfield said. “I told the group I would never move to outlaw any form of energy production, but I was willing to look into making the process more accountable.”
Hatfield said his proposal would have shifted ultimate responsibility to elected officials rather than the appointed Board of Zoning Appeals where, he said, public input is limited.
“It appeared at first glance to be a threat to solar, which it wasn’t. To me, it’s a pro-democratic ordinance,” he said.
His proposed ordinance, which he said was not a final draft, could have allowed for commercial solar projects to be built in areas zoned for industrial or possibly commercial use.
Because boards of zoning appeals are by state law quasi-judicial bodies, it is illegal for the public to contact its members before a hearing.
Hatfield said that limits the input the public can have on special use or variance petitions.
“I saw this as giving the most amount of people a chance to stand at a podium, send a text or email or call, and have a voice in the decision,” he said.
During the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Shoulders said the draft solar ordinance would be withdrawn and tabled for a future date. He said he found it’s language difficult to understand, which only added to the confusion about it.
“I got a lot of calls and emails about it, and it was sort of a mixed bag,” he said.
Shoulders said he believed the county had higher priorities such as the jail expansion and road improvements.
“I felt we as a commission didn’t need to make it a priority until we really understood it, and if we do bring it up again we should bring all the different parties to the table,” Shoulders said.
However, Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave said she did not think the ordinance would be revisited.
“It made solar generation more difficult, and I’m in favor of solar,” she said. “I believe it is non-political. The public has input on everything that comes before the BZA.”
Environmental advocate John Blair, president of Valley Watch, said he believes the proposal was misunderstood and deserved more discussion.
“It makes sense to me that there would be some political accountability to these decisions,” Blair said.
He said Hatfield has been invited to talk about the issue at a public forum hosted by Southern Indiana Democracy for America, at 7 p.m. April 3 in the Browning Room at the Evansville Public Library’s central library Downtown.
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