Company seeks to build solar farm on nearly 1,200 acres

Photo provided An artist’s rendering of how a proposed solar farm would look on Bartholomew County farmland.

An Arizona- and New York-based company is seeking to build a commercial solar energy system on nearly 1,200 acres of farmland in Bartholomew County leased from local landowners that is projected to generate enough energy to power more than 30,000 homes.

Swallowtail Solar LLC and its parent company Arevon Energy Inc. said they have filed an application with county planning officials that would start the process of securing permits to build a 200-megawatt commercial solar energy system across 21 privately owned properties in Clay and Flat Rock townships.

The company, which has described the project as a “large infrastructure investment of approximately $272 million,” also includes the creation of a pollinator-friendly habitat on the participating properties. Besides solar panels, the project would include, among other things, electrical cabling and conduits, perimeter fencing and a project substation that connects the renewable energy system to the grid.

The solar energy system would cover a stretch of privately owned properties largely bound by North County Road 500E to the west, East County Road 275N to the south, North County Road 650E to the east and parts of East County Road 400N to the north, according to a preliminary site plan. However, some of the participating properties are located outside of that general area.

Arevon Energy Inc. said that it has leased the properties to install solar panels and other related facilities for 30 years, with four optional five-year extensions. Under the terms of the lease agreements, the company said it is required to maintain the land for potential future agricultural use and return it to its original state after decommissioning the project.

Should the project ultimately get the green light, construction could begin as early as next year and is expected to last 14 months, becoming operational in 2026, the company said.

Headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, and New York City, Arevon Energy Inc. describes itself as a leading renewable energy company that develops, builds, owns and operates solar and storage projects across North America, according to its website.

The company said in its application that it is currently developing seven solar projects in six other Indiana counties that are expected to generate a combined 1.1 gigawatts of power.

“The applicant understands that several utility-scale solar projects are being actively developed in Bartholomew County,” the company states in its application. “(This) project is unique from other projects by the efforts that have been taken to modify the project to address the community’s concerns. Sincere and significant efforts have been taken over multiple years of development to understand this unique county and develop the project with the feedback of the community.”

In a letter to City-County Planning Director Jeff Bergman dated June 14, Arevon Energy Inc. requested a July 22 hearing before the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals. Currently, it is unclear if a hearing on the matter will be scheduled for that day.

Bergman confirmed that the City of Columbus – Bartholomew County Planning Department has received the application and that it falls under the jurisdiction of the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals. The planning department will review the application for completeness and “if appropriate, docketed for a public hearing and consideration at a future Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting,” Bergman said.

“The application was submitted prior to the June 18 deadline for a possible hearing at the July 22 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting,” Bergman said. “However, given the expected public interest in the request, the date and/or time of that hearing may be changed to best accommodate the expected attendance.”

Solar farms have been the subject of controversy in Bartholomew County in recent months.

In April, dueling lawsuits were filed after the City of Columbus approved zoning for portions of a large solar farm by California-based Carina Solar LLC, a division of Samsung C&T, in the city’s jurisdiction and Bartholomew County denied zoning approval for portions in its jurisdiction.

Carina Solar LLC sought a conditional use permit to build a solar farm on about 1,880 acres of land leased from more than two dozen local landowners. After hearings just days apart before the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals and the Columbus BZA in February, the county denied the application on roughly 1,100 acres, but the city approved the application on about 800 acres.

On March 26, Carina Solar sued the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals after the BZA rejected its application in February. That denial applied to the portions of the proposed farm under county zoning jurisdiction.

On March 27, a group of more than two dozen landowners who oppose the solar farm plan sued the Columbus BZA. The landowners and a group called Sunny Horizons LLC challenged the approval of portions of the solar farm within city zoning jurisdiction. The two lawsuits, which are still pending, were consolidated earlier this month.

For Arevon Energy Inc., securing a conditional use permit would be the first step toward turning the project into reality.

The company also plans to submit an improvement location permit application as required by the Bartholomew County Solar Ordinance. The improvement location permit requires the company to submit additional materials, including a road use plan, decommissioning agreement and a final site design.

“Upon approval of the (conditional use permit) application, the project will submit the (improvement location permit application) to the county once final site plans have been prepared for a final approval before any construction activities would occur,” the company states in its application.

Arevon Energy Inc. claims that the proposed project would add an estimated $56 million in net assessed valuation to Bartholomew County over its 30-year lifespan and would generate tax revenue for local school systems and Bartholomew County government, among other entities.

In addition, the project is expected to create 235 jobs during construction and around five full-time positions for onsite operations and maintenance. The company said it is not seeking any tax abatements.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a reference to Sunny Horizons LLC.