ALBION — After months and months of work, the Noble County Plan Commission might finally be through with discussing solar energy — at least for now.

Meeting in regular session Wednesday, the plan commission voted 9-0 to send a positive recommendation to the Noble County Commissioners regarding an ordinance that will shed light for companies interested in creating large solar farms in Noble County.

The Noble County Commissioners are scheduled to vote Monday on the ordinance which would set general requirements and guidelines for companies wanting to build large solar fields.

The ordinance’s creation was spurred on by state efforts last year to set statewide zoning law concerning the issue. Noble County officials wanted to have its own ordinance on the books before that happens.

“We’re working on developing our policy before it’s decided for us,” plan commission president George Bennett said Wednesday.

Geenex Solar, a North Carolina-based company, has been contacting Noble County landowners and offering $900 per acre on a long term lease, escalating to an average of $1,200 per acre, in its bid to potentially create a large solar field in north central Noble County.

The ordinance recommended Wednesday does not give Geenex the go-ahead, but does provide the company with the regulations it must follow if it chooses to submit such a project.

Among the rules for any commercial-grade solar project, as included in Wednesday’s ordinance recommended for passage:

• The parcel size must be a minimum of 5 acres;
• A complete development plan must be submitted within 90 days to the Noble County Development Plan Committee. The development plan must include, among other provisions, a fire safety plan, proof of liability insurance, storm water erosion control plans and road usage-repair agreements;
• No part of a solar panel shall exceed 15 feet in height.
• A buffer of natural vegetation or evergreen plants must be installed and meet a minimum of 6-foot in height at the time of installation, located between the property line and the commercial solar field’s fence on the participating land owner’s property.
• A requirement to have a conservation stewardship plan for the establishment and maintenance of ground vegetation for the life of the commercial solar field operation.
• A setback requirement of 50 feet from any non-participating plot’s property line and 300 feet from any non-participating plot’s home.

The plan commission had recommended the 50-foot/300-foot respective setbacks in September. The Noble County Commissioners then asked that hte ordinance be amended to change those numbers to 100-foot/350-foot.

The plan commission recommended approval of that proposal, but the commissioners in early November flip-flopped, going back to the 50-foot/300-foot setbacks.

According to Bennett, the plan commission had first heard about the solar issue at its November 2020 meeting. Work on its own ordinance began in earnest in March 2021.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Plan Director Teresa Tackett brought up the potential application fee companies would have to submit for consideration of a commercial solar operation plans by the plan commission’s site committee, the first step in the approval process.

Tackett based her figures on how long it could take for the committee to go through the plan and the wages for those county employees involved in the process.

Tackett came up with a tentative range of a $2,350-$3,650 preliminary application fee for a 10 megawatt project, and then would increase as the size of the project increased.

Permit fees vary throughout the state, according to information provided by Tackett. In Knox County, a 1,000 acre project would cost in the neighborhood of $103,000. Porter County charges a flat fee of $2,000. Jay County charges $1,750 per megawatt, making the fees for a 1,000 acre project approximately $175,000.

The plan commission has the authority to set its permitting fees. Tackett said the numbers she provided were merely a beginning point for talks the plan commission would have to hold in the near future.

The company applying for the permit would also have an application feet, which would likely be considerably less than the initial permitting fees, Tackett said.
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