The Paddlefish Solar project crosses over in two counties, Huntington and Wells. The detail on the left lists county requirements and the photo on the right illustrates what a tree and vegetative barrier would look like. Image courtesy of Paddlefish EDF Renewables
The Paddlefish Solar project crosses over in two counties, Huntington and Wells. The detail on the left lists county requirements and the photo on the right illustrates what a tree and vegetative barrier would look like. Image courtesy of Paddlefish EDF Renewables
HUNTINGTON — While a recent halt on solar is on in Huntington County, Paddlefish EDF Renewables reached out to the Indiana Plain Dealer to share how it enhances the electrical power grid as fossil fuels become constrained.

“This is a new form of American energy,” said Jesse Laniak, senior project developer for the Paddlefish Solar project. “We’ve been developing it for years as coal is coming offline. The cheapest to build is solar and 25 percent (of energy) is natural gas and wind.

“It’s the same juice going into the grid in just a different form of generation,” he explained. Gas is an important part of energy to supplement the renewable electricity mix in America, but the difference is in gas is you have to pay to bring it in.

According to a report from Indiana Capitol Chronicle in December 2023, the Indiana Office of Energy Development reported the state used carbon dioxide-emitting coal to produce about 80 percent of its energy in 2010, but that dropped to under 50 percent by 2022. Indiana has about 3,500 megawatts of wind and more than 400 megawatts of utility-scale solar in operation.

Additionally, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission reviewed more than 12,000 megawatts of wind, solar and storage, and nearly 9,000 megawatts are expected to come online by 2028, as reported by ICC.

“So the way it works, there are solar cells made out of silicon sandwiched between glass and steel,” he said. Those solar cells turn the light rays from the sun in to direct current electricity, and the cells are mounted on steel beams and no cement, stacked in rows like sunflowers.

While lightning from weather storms is attracted to metal, the panels are 8 feet off the ground and the transmission goes into grounded surge like generators, he explained.

As for using sheep to eat vegetation growth around the solar panels and keep it trimmed, Laniak explained that it is new to the industry, which is looking at different ways to use it. One is to provide fencing for the sheep from one area to the next and having sheep herders.

“I want people to know that the current ordinance … vegetative screening will be provided for neighbors,” he said, 300 feet away from the panels to provide coverage.

The humming noise has rules too, he explained, because the inverters that convert the direct current (DC) from the sun into the panels gets converted to alternate current (AC) energy have to be 500 feet from property lines, which don’t make much noise. He compared it to the sound one would hear when opening a refrigerator. “The main focus is a visual barrier,” he said.

A federal subsidies chart that he provided showed the USDA 2020 Agricultural industry received $22.40 billion, the fossil fuel industry in 2020 got $20.50 billion, and in 2021 the renewable energy industry got $15.1 billion. Also, Federal support in 2023 for renewable energy equals the amount of tax expenditures that was used in 1967 for coal and gas, which was about $12 million. In 2022 wind and solar represented less than half of the total federal support, and USDA direct farm payment exceeded wind and solar by $4.7 billion.

“Frankly all forms of energy are subsidized in America,” he said. “The solar is at the federal level. Local labor is used and local manufacturing.” Paddlefish’s company is going to use American made parts from Texas and Jeffersonville, Ind.

Additionally, Trena Roudebush with Geenex Solar, explained that the site would have signage required by the county for emergencies posted outside the facility entrance at the public right of way. It could also provide a sign describing the community solar field and its name.

Paddlefish EDF is working on two projects. The first is Paddlefish in Salamonie Township in southeast Huntington County crossing over into Wells County, said Laniak.

The second one is Bowfin in Union Township in Northeast Huntington County. It is in the early exploration stages and resulted in several questions by people about it.

A third, Maple Solar is with a different company out of Charlotte, N.C., according to the original abatement form from December 2022.

As for the recent halt on the projects until Huntington County Commissioners have examples of what an amended zoning code would be, Paddlefish and Bowfin are going by the current zoning regulations and adjusting along the way. While its two projects are different in approach, they would have the same benefits for the leasers and neighbors’ concerns.

The Solar Energy System for Paddlefish expects to be done in 2027, its life span is 35-39 years. Its construction is expected to create 350 local jobs, more than $90 million in revenue for schools and services over the life of the facility, power 64,000 homes and create 350 megawatts or 3.5 million watts.

Bowfin in Huntington County’s Union Township is being explored for interest and if it is a good fit in the community. It is expected to generate 190 megawatts or 1.9 million watts and is in early stages of acquiring land.

The reason for a long-term lease is for the company to recoup its costs for construction and it recognizes landowners’ rights.

“All of our leases are voluntarily signed up by landowners and there is no use of eminent domain whatsoever,” Laniak said.

An email comment from the Farm Bureau Tuesday states, “Huntington County Farm Bureau supports protecting our members’ property rights as landowners, which includes local control regarding the development of solar. We believe members have a right to decide what happens with their property.”

Commissioners announced during its Monday meeting that it expects to hold regular information meetings about solar as they receive more information and citizens’ concerns.
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