Lawmakers may have reached a compromise in a controversial bill regarding where renewable energy projects can be built in Indiana. A new amendment in House Bill 1381 allows counties that have restrictive wind farm ordinances to keep them, but also encourages them to allow wind farms in special districts.
In these renewable energy districts, the county couldn’t have stricter wind farm rules than the state, but people living in them could get incentives. Counties could charge wind companies a one-time construction fee of up to $3,000 per megawatt of the wind farm's installed capacity.
The county could then give that money to residents and businesses near wind turbines. Counties could also give neighbors a larger cut of the tax revenue.
Ryan Hoff is with the Association of Indiana Counties, which was originally opposed to the bill.
“The concept of incentivizing local participation rather than removal of local control is one that we can certainly get behind," he said.
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Will Eberle is with RWE Renewables, which operates a wind farm in Madison and Tipton counties. He said having the renewable energy districts strikes a good balance.
“Rather than saying the county can tell these 300 people over here that they can’t use their land how they want because a couple of people somewhere else in the county may not want them to do that," Eberle said.
Indiana counties that want to develop new wind ordinances would have to either follow state guidelines or create renewable energy districts.
Unlike in the original bill, wind and solar companies whose projects were denied could no longer appeal to the state.
In an email statement, Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council said the bill will help accelerate renewable energy in Indiana, but that the group is still concerned about what it would mean for the land underneath solar farms.
"As the bill is currently written, just a few landowners (who lease their land to solar developers) could make decisions — on a 1,000+ acre facility — that have impact on dozens and dozens of landowners who live near a solar farm," Kharbanda said in a statement. "We would not want to see Indiana's County Commissioners, under the Senate version of HB 1381, go through all of the effort of creating locally tailored groundcover ordinance language only to have it vetoed by a few landowners; at least 12 counties in Indiana have carefully crafted groundcover provisions in their solar ordinances, showing a clear demand by local governments to exercise local government control in this regard."
With the amendment, it’s unclear if the bill achieves its goal of standardizing laws for siting renewable energy across Indiana.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.