Indiana lawmakers are taking another stab at setting up statewide standards for large wind and solar projects, a year after a group of counties shot down an earlier effort.
The Senate Committee on Utilities voted 7-1 on Thursday to advance a bill that provides incentives to local governments to accept the standards on setbacks, heights and other facets of commercial projects.
The issue looms large for Indiana, home to numerous wind and solar farms. Since 2008, developers have installed more than 1,000 wind turbines across the state, chiefly on 16 large wind farms, that crank out more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity—enough to power more than 1 million homes.
The biggest difference between the new bill and last year’s is that no county will be forced to accept the state standards and give up home rule, said the bill’s author, Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper.
“This is completely voluntary,” Messmer said. “If a county chooses to do nothing, they can do nothing. If they want to participate, they can apply to be a renewable-ready county.”
Under the new legislation, Senate Bill 411, counties can apply to be “renewable ready” and be eligible for state grants if they opt in to the statewide standards. The financial incentive is equivalent to $1 per megawatt hour of electricity generated each year from new projects.
Messmer said the standards in the bill are the same as in last year’s legislation. The major difference, he said, is the program is voluntary and does not require counties to surrender their local standards.
Developers have zeroed in on Indiana, in part, because the state’s flat terrain, especially in northern Indiana, leads to higher wind speeds. More than 1,000 megawatts of new wind capacity are under construction or in advanced development.
But some projects have run into setbacks in recent years, as some counties have restricted wind farms, saying they are too large and intrusive.
The bill is meant to address a major concern of large renewable developers, who say they must deal with a hodgepodge of regulations across Indiana’s 92 counties, rather than just one statewide standard, in setting up large projects. That can lead to expensive delays or projects getting denied.
Last year, Messmer introduced a bill that would set up statewide standards for such projects. It passed the committee, but Messmer did not call it for a vote on the Senate floor following an outcry by county commissioners and some property owners.
Four property owners testified Thursday against the bill. Some said the bill attempts to put a “one size fits all” set of standards on all participating counties. Others said the standards were unrealistic for rural communities that don’t want to see large energy projects popping up just a few hundred feet from their homes.
“The setbacks in this bill…are laughable,” said Kyle Barlow, a Shelby County farmer.
Nevertheless, the bill has wide support from industry and government groups, including the Indiana Association of Counties, the Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Energy Association, Indiana Industrial Energy Consumers, Citizens Action Coalition and several energy-renewable companies.