ANDERSON – Despite organized and vocal opposition, the Lone Oak Solar Energy Center received approval to expand the project site in northern Madison County.

The Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday voted to approve the request from Invenergy for a special use for an additional 350 acres for the project and two variances, pertaining to property line setbacks and when construction must start.

BZA member John Simmermon made the motion to approve the request; Jerry Stamm seconded the motion. Simmermon and Stamm were joined by Mary Jane Baker in voting to approve the request. Cory Bohlander and Curt Stephenson cast “no” votes.

In his motion, Simmermon added a requirement for immediate groundwater monitoring in the event that a panel is destroyed or damaged by severe weather. It was already established that the monitoring be required every two years.

Stephenson said he checked with local real estate agents and learned there would probably be a negative impact on property values in the area. He wanted to include a property value protection for surrounding property owners.

But attorney Jeff Graham said BZA members must follow the ordinance adopted by the Madison County Commissioners in 2017; that ordinance does not include property value protection.

Attorney Scott Federoff said Kosciusko County recently passed a solar ordinance which includes a property value guarantee.

“You have been flooded with information,” Federoff said. “It should be considered by the county commissioners, who are elected by the people.”

The BZA in May voted to approve a special use for the original $110 million project, which is projected to produce 120 megawatts of electricity.

The approval included a 500-foot setback from nonparticipating property owners. It also included an extension of time for construction to start no later than Dec. 31, 2023, and increased the bond amount for the decommissioning of the solar farm to $5.6 million.

Invenergy said the additional acreage is required because of the increased setback requirements.

Both sides made their final presentations for and against the Lone Oak Solar Energy Center for about two hours Tuesday night.

Opponents of the project presented BZA members with a binder in August. The contents included a description of decline in property values, the potential for flooding and the possibility of contamination of the soil and groundwater.

Mike Hall with Underwriter Laboratories said the decommissioning agreement was studied, and the study verified the projected $5.6 million to remove the panels, wiring, racking systems and concrete posts.

He estimated the salvage value from $1 million to $3 million.

Matt Hildreth, a consultant for Invenergy, said the solar project would result in a reduction of both peak runoff and volume as compared to the existing conditions. He said 98% of the site would be covered in perennial vegetation.

“There will be a benefit in water quality through a reduction in sediment, nitrogen, phosphorous and soil erosion from the site,” Hildreth said.

Dr. Herb Eckerlin, a retired professor from North Carolina State speaking for opponents of the project, contended the solar industry operates like a secret society. Solar panels operate at peak power generation only on a sunny day at noon and no electricity is generated for 16 to 18 hours per day, he said.

Eckerlin talked about contamination of the Cape Fear River from a plant that manufactures material used in Teflon. But when asked, Eckerlin said he didn’t know where the contamination came from and couldn’t attribute it to solar panels in North Carolina.

Mary Solada, the attorney for Invenergy, said the county adopted stringent standards when it came to drainage and decommissioning of a solar facility.

She said the 500-foot setback is the largest in Indiana.
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