PERU — The Miami County Plan Commission on Wednesday approved an amended solar farm ordinance with larger setbacks from adjoining properties after some residents criticized how the ordinance was drafted.

The commission voted 5-2 to increase setbacks for solar farms from 25 feet to 150 feet from any property line of an adjoining property owner. The change came after one resident said he thought the 25-foot setback was too close.

Other setback requirements were kept in place, including a 100-foot buffer from roads and a 50-foot distance for any access driveways to non-participating landowners' property lines.

Connie Gerber told the commission she also wanted the ordinance to include language that would require periodic water and soil testing near a solar farm, and bar companies from doing construction at night.

She also said the county wouldn't be able to fight or contain a large-scale fire at a solar farm, which contains lithium batteries.

Board members pointed to language in the ordinance that addressed Gerber's concerns, including requirements that any solar farm operator pay for specialized emergency or fire training. Companies must also submit a fire and emergency safety plan that must be approved by the fire department who would respond to the site.

The amended ordinance came after the commission decided it needed to clean up and clarify its current solar ordinance, which was approved in November.

The commission formed a five-person committee to propose and review amendments that were incorporated into the revised solar ordinance.

But Elaine Anderson, who served on the committee, criticized how some of the amendments made it into the ordinance.

She said fellow committee member Larry West reached out to a solar company to get input on the ordinance, and then presented their critiques and proposed language as his own. She said West copied word-for-word a solar company's suggestion on screening and buffering requirements around a solar farm.

Anderson said it wasn't fair that a solar company could make suggestions on the ordinance before the public was allowed to see it.

West said he did get input from a company and incorporated it into the buffering language, but argued it made sense to reach out to a solar company when drafting a solar ordinance.

"It doesn't make sense not to go to the experts and ask their opinion of something," he said. "They did have some suggestions on vegetative buffers, which the committee was struggling on how to write that up. They came back with some good comments on that."

West also said that if the commission didn't approve the amended ordinance, the current ordinance would remain in effect, which is messier and doesn't include important clarifications.

Anderson said she thought there were still too many questions surrounding solar farms, and asked the committee to consider putting a moratorium on any proposed projects in Miami County.

"Miami County is not prepared for large energy projects," she said. "There are too many unknowns and too many questions we don't even know to ask. Why don't we let other counties who are embracing them find out first?"

Commission President Brad Fruth said no solar company has submitted a permit request to build a project in the county.

The amended ordinance must still be approved by Miami County commissioners before taking affect.
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