1st solar farm coming to county

Bloomington alternative energy company building project south of city

Motorists driving along Interstate 65 in southern Bartholomew County will soon see the future of energy production.

Hoosier Energy, based in Bloomington, will begin installing a 4,000-panel solar farm next week at the southwest corner of Interstate 65 and County Road 625S — south of Columbus, company officials said.

Without weather delays, the project could be completed by August, project developer Chad Jenkins said.

It will be the first solar farm in Bartholomew County.

“This is going to cause a lot of attention,” Jenkins told the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday.

Tours will likely be offered during a dedication ceremony planned for mid to late September, Jenkins said.

Each solar panel will eventually collect about 1.5 kilowatt hours of energy per day, totaling about 2 million kilowatt hours per year, Hoosier Energy announced.

In total, the one megawatt solar array that will span seven acres of a 25-acre lot should be able to power about 150 homes annually, Jenkins said.

About 10 sites throughout the southern half of Indiana were obtained by Hoosier Energy to become solar farms. Completed and operational sites can be found in Monroe, Clark, Henry, Harrison and Greene counties.

In Johnson County, an almost identical project was completed last fall at a cost of $2.5 million along State Road 135 in the Bargersville area, Jenkins said.

Efforts to develop the solar farms began in 2014 after the Hoosier Energy board of directors asked for 10 percent of power to come from renewable resources, Jenkins said.

Hoosier Energy is a generation and transmission cooperative made up of 18 electric distribution cooperatives that includes Bartholomew County REMC.

“Columbus wants renewable energy, and most see this as a great thing,” said Marty Lasure, REMC public relations and member services manager. “We’re proud to be the first to bring a project of this scope to Bartholomew County.”

Although solar energy has become increasingly viable, it will remain just one part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy for the foreseeable future, Lasure said.

That means combining nonrenewable resources — such as coal, crude oil and natural gas — with solar, wind, nuclear power, hydroelectric power and biofuels.

In an effort to promote renewable energy and pique interest in alternative energy sources, Hoosier Energy has intentionally chosen to build solar farms along heavily traveled highways and interstates, the company said.

While the solar farm has been deemed exempt from Bartholomew County zoning ordinances, the cooperative’s plan to place a 288-square-foot billboard at the Wayne Township solar farm is not.

Although zoning appeals board members voiced support for the solar farm Tuesday, they turned down Jenkins’ request to place a 12-foot by 24-foot sign that promotes renewable energy at the site.

Lasure or Jenkins said they knew the board has turned down several similar requests from others for the same type of sign in the area multiple times.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.