The clock is ticking for a controversial bill that creates statewide standards for placement of solar and wind farms.
The deadline for the Senate Utilities Committee to vote on HB 1381 is 12:30 p.m. April 8, said Ryan Kommes, a representative for committee chair Sen. Eric Koch.
"If it doesn’t pass out of the committee by then, it’s dead for the session," Kommes said. The committee’s schedule does not show a hearing on HB 1381 this week.
The bill is opposed by a large number of county governments in Indiana because "it essentially eliminates local jurisdiction over zoning control of siting wind turbines and solar panel fields," Bartholomew County attorney Grant Tucker said.
Both the Association of Indiana Counties and the Indiana Association of County Commissioners are opposed to the proposed legislation. Government officials from more than 60 Indiana counties, including Bartholomew, have passed resolutions or written letters to state lawmakers to voice their objections.
The Bartholomew County commissioner’s letter is dated March 4. However, the three members waited two-and-a-half weeks to approve a resolution that formally places their objections into the public record.
Created by the 21st Century Energy Task Force that completed its work in December, HB 1381 was written because task force members felt that Indiana, as a state, was making energy policy very much on an ad hoc and reactive basis, rather than through a coherent policy, Koch said.
"That’s a little bit insulting because we put an awful lot of effort into these decisions," Bartholomew County Commissioner Tony London said. "People should have their voices heard (locally) on whether they are for – or against a wind farm or a solar field. But this bill takes that away completely."
"I think that with the opposition given by county commissioners and other entities, this probably isn’t going to pass the Senate," commissioner’s Chairman Larry Kleinhenz said.
"Not in it’s current incarnation," London replied.
London’s words echo those given by State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, on March 19 when he advised amendments could be added to HB 1381 to tone down some controversial provisions.
Bill co-author State Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, said this week she’s already working with county leaders around the state on their concerns, adding that amendments to the bill will be proposed.
But whether those amendments are approved is another matter. There were seven amendments attempted in the House on Feb. 16. Only one amendment intended to respect residential growth was approved. All others either failed, were withdrawn or ruled out of order.
Since its 58-38 House passage on Feb. 17, the only action the bill has received in the Senate over the past five weeks has been its assignment to Koch’s Utility committee.
A key reason that renewable energy companies want HB 1381 is that it’s substantially cheaper to create one centralized clearing house (the state) than seek permission for solar fields and wind farms from 92 different county governments, London said.
"I can understand why these companies don’t want to mess with us yokels," London said.
If the bill fails, it will be harder to site these renewable energy sources because of the outcry from future neighbors, Kleinhenz said.
Various news accounts state excessive noise and vibrations have been frequent complaints by neighbors living close to wind turbines, while those who reside next to a solar field say a large number of panels ruin a neighborhood’s aesthetics, which creates a negative impact on property values.
Kleinhenz says he has proposed an "impact fee" or "host fee" where all residents within a certain distance around the landfill would receive an annual payment from the landfill. Those payments could also be considered when wind turbines or solar fields comes in, because it does have an impact on adjoining property owners.
"We even had a committee that formulated a process for payment," Kleinhenz said. "But the legislators didn’t like it."
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Letter to legislators” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
March 4, 2021
We would like to express our opposition for HB 1381 the way it is currently written. We believe the bill could have a negative impact on counties.
HB 1381, if implemented in its current form, removes a county’s ability to develop long term, compatible land uses crafted through local public meetings. Wind and Solar companies would be able to randomly develop projects that comply with state standards but may be incompatible with future economic development projects, planned residential development or road expansions. These projects have the potential of reducing the value of neighboring properties so the decisio0n about where these projects are located should be made at a local level.
We believe that decisions regarding wind and solar development are best made by the citizens living in the community, rather than by the wind and solar industry or State officials who may be unfamiliar with the unique characteristics of said communities.
We hope you will consider our concerns regard this bill as it is being considered and debated. We want to ensure that all Bartholomew County residents control their own future through land use decisions.
Bartholomew County Board of Commissioners
Larry S. Kleinhenz
Carl H. Lienhoop