Indiana lawmakers prompted debate at the Statehouse Thursday over potential conflicts of interest for local officials who approve large wind energy projects.
County commissions and planning boards approve wind farm developments in Indiana. Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, says in some cases, those commissioners have also signed lease agreements with developers and would benefit from a project’s approval.
“I see a very large issue with that and I hope we can work on that issue next year,” Ober said to start the hearing.
One such commissioner is Benton County’s Bruce Buchanan, who testified before the committee.
“It was good for the county and I was all for it,” Buchanan says.
Benton and White counties generate the most wind energy in Indiana. Buchanan also says revenue from the county’s wind developments is crucial to its budget.
“We would not have paramedics today if it were not for wind mills,” says Buchanan.
The committee heard from dozens of Hoosiers about how wind farms affect ‒ or don’t ‒ property values, health, and county budgets.
Three Indiana school districts also asked the committee to exempt schools from a bill passed earlier this year that changed the state’s so-called net metering rules.
Starting next year, new solar panel owners will receive less money for selling energy back to the electrical grid.
But schools around the state are starting to invest in solar to defray energy costs and direct more money to educating students, says Mill Creek Superintendent Jim Diagostino.
“We will save our tax payers just under $1 million dollars, and the savings to the environment are priceless,” says Diagostino.
Officials from Tri-Creek School Corporation in Lake County and Center Grove School Corporation in Johnson County also testified before the committee.
The districts also asked – if the legislature doesn’t exempt schools from the law – to extend the date it goes into effect, beyond December 31.
Tri-Creek Superintendent Deb Howe also asked the committee to remove local zoning hurdles to building solar arrays on school property, a problem her district encountered.
“We’ve managed to get through all these because, in the long run, the school district and the community believed this was in the best interest of our students,” Howe says.
The legislative committee will meet once more this month before issuing a report to the general assembly.