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2/3/2012 12:56:00 PM
Porter County nixes one solar farm, delays decision on second

Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune Correspondent

VALPARAISO — The Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals nixed a solar farm planned for Union Township and continued a decision on a second in Portage Township, pending information on landscaping on the site and the zoning of nearby land.

The decisions, on the first solar farms in the county, came at a Wednesday public hearing on the matter, during which several Union Township landowners expressed concern about noise and property values. The plan for Portage Township garnered some support, though a resident of a nearby subdivision was unhappy with the proposal for the same reasons as the people in Union Township.

The similar plans – the Portage Township solar farm is slightly larger – call for solar panels on 11 acres on each site. Energy collected at them would be sold to Northern Indiana Public Service Co.

Representatives from Minnesota-based Ecos Energy said they are serving as development consultants for private investors. Ecos also is involved with plans for solar farms in Hobart and Merrillville.

The BZA voted down the Union Township site, south of Ind. 130 at 495 W. County Road 450 North, with a 4-1 vote. The Portage Township proposal is on the southwest corner of Robbins Road and North County Road 450 West, just outside the city limits.

The Portage Township site is zoned for light industrial, while the Union Township plan was for land zoned rural residential/light industrial, causing consternation for nearby neighbors.

“I cannot see how this is going to improve my property values,” said Bill Tharp, who lives cross the street. “I do not understand why we would ever want to do this, especially in a residential area.”

Chris Little, director of development for Ecos, and Brad Wilson, the company’s project manager, said a solar farm was a better use for the land for neighbors than a warehouse or other facility that would generate heavy traffic or emissions.

That wasn’t enough to sway the board.

“I think it’s a good project. Renewable energy, everyone’s for that. I don’t think it’s the right property,” board member Rick Burns said. “I think it’s a good idea. I don’t think it’s the right location.”

Little and Young said that, through their pending agreement with NIPSCO, the solar farms must be located at the selected sites.

“If we move the project, the project dies,” Little said.

Related Stories:
• Proposals for more than 11,300 solar panels in Lake County get approvals
• Company seeks to bring solar panel farms to Northwest Indiana
• EDITORIAL: Solar farms are short on details
• Solar energy farm wins Hobart BZA approval to build 4,576 panels

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