Developer plans solar farms on 286 acres in southern Marion County

A Minnesota company has pegged two sites on the southern outskirts of Marion Country for a $50 million-plus solar farm project.

Sunrise Energy Ventures LLC wants to develop on a 130-acre parcel in Decatur Township and a 156-acre site directly to the east in Franklin Township. The Minnetonka, Minn.-based firm plans to install solar panels and power stations in each location to collectively generate electricity for Indianapolis Power & Light Co. as part of a 15-year contract.

Sunrise on Tuesday received a necessary blessing from the Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals. The company had requested variances of use and development standards for the properties.

Residents near both sites objected to the planned projects at an often contentious BZA meeting Tuesday, fearing reduced property values and problems with drainage and future development. Board members unanimously approved Sunrise's request for the larger solar plant, located at 10321 E. Southport Road, and came down 3-2 in favor of the smaller operation at 5901 W. Southport Road.

Sunrise expects to begin construction in July or August and finish within eight months. IPL has agreed to buy 30 megawatts of power from the firm.

Solar panel manufacturer First Solar Inc., headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., will supply the equipment and operate the plants after they are finished, according to Dean Leischow, managing director for Sunrise.

Sunrise and First Solar will maintain equity stakes in the solar farms, which will pool funding from Sunrise, First Solar and other private investors.

Government money also will have a hefty role in the venture. Federal tax credits will reimburse the investors about 30 percent of the $56 million to $57 million in projected costs, Leischow said.

Aaron Freeman, the City-County Council representative for District 25 in Franklin Township, supported the project, citing a lack of business in the township.

“We absolutely need development in Franklin Township,” Freeman said. “Would we prefer a business over solar panels? I guess. But we need the development. … I see this as a step.”

The plant in Decatur Township was harder-pressed for endorsements from government officials.

City-County Councilor Jason Holliday of District 22 urged the zoning board to reject Sunrise’s request. He echoed a charge led by Pat Andrews, who chairs the land use committee for the Decatur Township Civic Council.

Among Andrews' objections were that the solar plant would block future housing development and posed issues with sewage.

“This parcel is the worst parcel they could have chosen in our entire township,” Andrews said.

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