WELLS COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — New solar energy rules will soon take effect in Wells County.
“We want people to know about what is going on,” Wells County Area Planning Director Michael Lautzenheiser said. “We want them to be prepared, ask questions and learn more about this stuff.”
Discussion over whether or not the county should put together an ordinance about solar energy started a few years back. At the time the county had little regulations on solar energy and some local business and homeowners had started to use the renewable energy.
“We saw a need to put together some standards for what would constitute different elevations of regulations,” Lautzenheiser said. “We have small scale for residential, a medium scale for like schools and industrial facilities and large scale for utilities.”
Solar energy is the process of catching energy from the sun to create clean energy. An example of a small scale version would be a resident placing a solar panel on the roof of their home or on a building. A large scale would be hundreds of acres of solar panels.
Then, in 2019, solar energy companies began looking into leasing ground for the purpose of having a large scale utility facility in the southern portion of the county. Lautzenheiser said that took things to the next level, and county officials began looking into other counties rules and regulations on the clean energy source.
The rules for solar facilities calls for panels to setback 200 feet from the property lines of non-participating land. Facilities will be completely fenced in with perimeter fencing and locked with gates that are at least six feet in height. Facilities are not allowed to cause a glare and the rules put a limit on noise pollution that may be caused by the facility. For residents who live in cities or towns, Lautzenheiser says they will have limited impact from the new laws due to the lack of acreage for a large-scale solar facility.
“It’s more of a rule ordinance,” Lautzenheiser said. “What it’s really saying is that depending on what level of interest and the location of your house or property, you gain certain protections. So if you live next to a farm that gets leased for a solar facility, you gain certain protections. For example, you have a certain guarantee of a setback, noise level, your drainage can’t be damaged.”
Also in the ordinance is the steps residents and communities have to take in order to have solar energy on their land. If a community would want to start a large scale solar facility project, they have to notify everyone within a one mile radius of their project site.
“If we see something that a year or two down the road we would like to incorporate we also try to make sure our ordinances are as much as a living document as possible,” Lautzenheiser said. “So it wouldn’t be uncommon to make adjustments to it throughout the years.”
The Plan Commission has recommended that the ordinance be passed. Since then the city of Bluffton and County Commissioners have adopted the ordinance as is. Some of the smaller communities have yet to vote and adopt the rules before they are finalized. Officials expect the rules to go into effect late February into early March.
Though the rules will go into effect in the upcoming months, the county doesn’t expect to see a large project come through the area until a few years down the road. However, officials say they want residents to be aware that the change is coming.
With the new rules on solar energy taking effect, many residents are curious if the ordinance will open the door to wind energy. Wells County currently allows small and medium size wind turbines, but prohibits the use of large scale turbines. Lautzenheiser wants to ensure residents that the county is not looking into utility scale wind energy.
To view the ordinance in its entirety, click here.