CLINTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI)- It was standing room only in the theater at the Frankfort Public Library Wednesday night. The county's Area Plan Commission met to make a recommendation about the zoning overlay for a proposed 1,777-acre solar farm. The board voted unanimously to favorably recommend.
Renewable energy has been a hot topic in the past in Clinton County. As we previously reported, in September of 2019, Clinton County commissioners upheld a moratorium on wind farms first put in place in 2017. This ultimately is continuing the ban on any wind farms being built in the county.
Invenergy is the company proposing the solar farm. The project manager gave a presentation to people in the audience addressing some of their big concerns.
APC President Daniel Sheets said solar farms could be a happy medium between country living and having big wind turbines in your back yard.
"I think it does reach that point to where it's something in between, during our wind farm meetings solar was one of the top items people wanted to see," he said. "Something much worse could be proposed for that land, like a subdivision."
People are worried about their property values, quality of life, damage to roads during construction, drainage, the environment, loss of agriculture land, light pollution/glare and the sheer size of this large project.
They brought in an expert to ease people's worries about property values, saying there would be little to no impact. Several community members who spoke during public comment still begged to differ.
The project manager explained how they will only actually be using 1,300 acres for the solar panels which will be surrounded by deer fencing without barbed wire. They will also be planting prairie grass and pollinators to help enrich the soil and encourage natural wildlife, essentially creating a big meadow. According to the presentation, they are also only taking 0.007% of farmable land in Clinton County.
"I think it's going to be a big benefit to water quality because we are taking this land out of row crop production, we're going to reduce nitrogen loads and silt loads," said Sheets.
Another big question: what does the county get out of this solar farm? Specifically, will the homes in Clinton County get the energy generated from the solar farm?
Invenergy used a metaphor with farming to explain. Clinton County farmers don't control where the corn or soy beans they harvest goes to. The farmers aren't selling to people in the county. They sell it to a supplier who then distributes it where it's needed. She said it's the same with the solar farm. The energy generated goes to a grid where it gets distributed to where it's needed, however they said it will get sent to a Midwest grid, so it will be used in the Midwest.
They also explained how they will be making large tax investments in Clinton County.
"Revenue wise this is a $38 million return to the county that could possibly be used to lower taxes, however that is up to the councils," said Sheets. "More immediately it can be used for roads."
Another board member made the point that they won't have to hire another sheriff's deputy or build another school or anything else that would take tax revenue from the county by building this solar farm.
At the end of the meeting, there were still many community members, mainly those who live where this will be built, that were unconvinced that this will be a good thing. However, there were also some wearing "Yes to Solar" stickers on their shirts. Sheets wants to remind people that this is still in its infancy and there are still lots of opportunities for people to voice their concerns.
"This is not the last stop, it's only a recommendation," he said. "The county commissioners will be reviewing this possibly at the next meeting and then if they approve it, it comes back to the plan commission where Invenergy will have to introduce a development plan where we will see exactly what it is they are proposing. And then it all starts again with review from the plan commission, review from the drainage board and more opportunity for public input."
The next county commissioners meeting is scheduled for Monday March 3rd at 9 a.m. Find the calendar and agenda here.