It's messy. It slows progress. It renders everything difficult. It roils confrontation.

And it's the way grassroots democracy should work.

That's the character of the debate over the proposed 120-megawatt, 850-acre Lone Oak Solar Farm in Madison County.

Credit opponents of the project with demanding setbacks that would keep the farm from encroaching on the bucolic view from their homes, and for raising questions about property values, environmental concerns and land-use practices.

Credit proponents for speaking up for their right to lease their land for whatever legal purposes they choose, for the right to make a profit and for the development of clean energy solutions.

And credit the members of the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals for delaying a decision on variance requests so that members of the public can learn more about the project, ask the tough questions and make their opinions known.

Some have lamented the controversy caused by the solar farm proposal, noting that it's turned neighbor against neighbor.

That can be disheartening, but when the controversy passes -- and it might bring legal challenges before it's over -- we trust that the neighborly folks of Madison County will shake hands and respect one another.

Until that time, folks have the right to stand up and make themselves heard.

Invenergy, which would build the solar park, is a big power company with lots of money and attorney power. And sometimes a community will roll over in the face of such an organization.

But it's better to challenge what they say and what they're offering.

Invenergy stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars off this project, and the company ought to make a big-time commitment to local schools, to 4-H, to economic development and other local interests.

Sometimes it doesn't seem like Hoosier hospitality, when a visitor like Invenergy comes in, to ask for more than they're offering. But local folks should, in this case. If the community is truly to be the company's partner, the company should share it's bounty generously.

The company has shown that it will modify its project to address opponents' concerns, already offering to increase setbacks from non-participant property to 250 feet. That's a far cry from the county minimum of 50 feet.

And it's enough for a nice buffer of trees and other vegetation to shield residences from a face-full of solar panels. But maybe the company would agree to more, and opponents are now asking for 500 feet.

As this debate continues -- the BZA has scheduled another hearing for May 28 -- it becomes more important for people on both sides to do as much listening as talking.

For democracy also depends on good-faith compromise and a willingness to move away from entrenchment.

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