Letter: County solar ordinance should set 500-foot minimum setback

From: Phillip and Connie Weichman


The proposed Bartholomew County solar ordinance has setbacks at 200 feet from adjacent and non-lease-signing property owners. This very small distance was not what the ordinance originally proposed. That setback was 500 feet, which needs to be adopted in the ordinance to protect property owners who have not signed leases to the large solar companies.

With a 500-foot or more setback, there is more land available to absorb water after a major rainfall before it flows onto neighboring property. Also, if there is any damage (wind, lightning, hail, etc.) to solar panels that allows the release of toxic material, there is more land to help contain the toxins before running onto neighboring property.

At the previous planning commission meetings where public input was allowed, there were several speakers who travel the state and are paid to promote small setbacks because it benefits the large solar companies. They have no apparent connection to Bartholomew County, only viewing it as “available for the taking.” These solar companies are signing leases with large landowners throughout the county including in Clay, Columbus and Sandcreek townships and the Jonesville area. Yes, large landowners have property rights, but so do the small landowners. The 200-foot setback only benefits the large landowners who have signed leases. The small landowners also pay taxes and need to be represented in this ordinance with a minimum of a 500-foot setback, which was the planning department director’s first proposal.

A speaker at a recent solar presentation at Donner Center stated that solar companies prefer rural counties that need economic help. Does Bartholomew County need this kind of economic help? Solar companies want to lease productive farmland for 20-30 years. That is a long time to take farmland out of production. Bartholomew County farmers raise more than just corn and soybeans. Many grow green beans, cucumbers for pickles, tomatoes, wheat, seed corn and melons. Restricting productive farmland uses for 20-30 years will negatively affect not only Bartholomew County but the world.

It is unfortunate that the planning commission voted to accept such a small setback. When the vote was taken to accept the smaller setback and send it to the county commissioners, only one commission member voted no.

We invite you to see displays of 200-foot and 500-foot setbacks. One site is on the south side of County Road 50N, which runs past Clifty School and out to Otter Creek. Another display is on the north side of County Road 200S across from the county fairgrounds. The numbers are the same size so anyone driving by can see the difference another 300 feet makes for a setback. This also shows what the maximum 20-foot height for the panels will look like. Is this what you want to see instead of crops?

The county commissioners will hear public comments concerning this proposed ordinance tentatively at their Oct. 17 hearing. This is your opportunity to tell the commissioners what you want for Bartholomew County.