Proposed solar farm pledges big bee, butterfly habitat

Developers of a proposed solar energy farm in northeastern Bartholomew County are pledging to incorporate what would be the largest “pollinator garden” in the county, providing vital habitat for butterflies and bees that are essential for food and vegetation.

The proposed Swallowtail Solar Farm, which developers Arevon Energy Inc. and Tenaska want to build on agricultural land leased from owners in Clay and Flat Rock Townships, would generate 200 megawatts of clean renewable energy, enough to power more than 30,000 homes.

The companies said they also plan to include up to 10 acres of native, pollinator-specific plants located within the project area.

“We always work to maximize the community and environmental benefits of our projects. At Swallowtail Solar Farm, we can create important wildlife habitat and improve soil health while generating clean electricity and economic growth,” Zach Sawicki, senior project development manager for Arevon, said in a news release announcing the plan.

“We’re looking forward to making the largest pollinator garden in Bartholomew County a key part of our solar farm,” he said. The pollinator garden is in addition to native perennial groundcover developers have pledged to grow beneath the expanses of solar panels.

The companies said they worked with members of the Columbus Pollinator Committee to ensure plans would work with community goals, including making Columbus the first Bee City USA affiliate in Indiana.

The announcement of the pollinator garden and the official name of what would be the largest solar farm in the county comes as local planning officials are developing zoning and land-use regulations that would govern commercial solar energy installations.

The Bartholomew County Plan Commission held its first public discussion on proposed zoning amendments to allow solar systems on June 8. A public hearing on the proposed amendments is tentatively scheduled for July 13 at 8:30 a.m. at Columbus City Hall.

Developers previously said they planned to build a solar field that would cover about 1,000 acres. Property owners confirmed to The Republic the companies have leased land for the solar farm in an area roughly bounded by County Road 450N to the north, State Road 9 to the east, East 25th Street to the south and County Road 425E to the west.

No formal development plans have been submitted to county zoning officials.

Swallowtail Solar Farm is still in the development process and would not start construction before the second half of 2024, pending needed approvals, the developers said. Before construction could begin, field studies, surveys, design and other steps would have to be finalized and permits issued.