Indiana Senate to consider controversial renewable energy bill

National Politics

INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to wind and solar farms, Indiana lawmakers are trying to strike a balance between property rights and the rights of your neighbors.

However, not everyone believes the proposal in the Indiana House of Representatives is successful in that feat.

“If it doesn’t pass, we are just going to pay more for electricity because the folks who create jobs and export products want renewables,” said the bill’s author, State Rep. Ed Soliday (R).

His commercial wind and solar standards bill encourages renewable energy investments in Indiana. He says 34 counties have banned wind farms, and now some companies are saying they’re not coming to the state.

“This leaves Indiana as a uniquely unfriendly place to do business for our industry,” said Will Eberly, the director of government relations at RWE Renewables. “All of the work that you all have done to put together the 21st Century Energy Task Force plan will simply not come to fruition unless the state takes a more active role in partnering with the counties.”

Soliday’s bill establishes state standards for wind and solar power, giving locals some say in how it’s approved but not complete authority.

The Indiana Association of County Commissioners strongly opposes the legislation.

“The Board of County Commissioners is uniquely positioned in these counties to balance these competing interests between the renewable energy and economic development policy at the county with these concerns of citizens in groups that come forward,” said Jake German with the association. “While there are 32 counties who have stepped up and passed ordinances that do not want wind, there are counties that are working with these renewable energy companies in solar space.”

Betsy Mills, a member of the Henry County Council, said she wants to debunk the rumor that those opposed are against renewable energy.

“I am pro science, pro logic and pro responsible energy when and where it makes sense and when it protects neighbors,” said Mills. “Why does this bill prioritize the needs of the industry and not the voice of the people? Why would we injure the local democratic process to protect the growth of a specific industry? It sure sounds like we are picking winners and losers and losers are citizens.”

As for the Hoosier Environmental Council, Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda said, “HEC has been a long-standing supporter of renewable energy farms for many years, and is urging lawmakers to amend the bill to truly preserve local government control with regard to the land underneath Indiana solar farms for the sake of stormwater control, soil and water conservation, and habitat protection for pollinators.” 

The current bill allows a landowner to veto pollinator friendly requirements for solar farms.

“Native or naturalized wildflowers, exactly the kind of species that are going to draw in birds, that are going to draw in bees and other kinds of pollinators,” said Kharbanda. “So here’s this opportunity for Indiana to really responsibly use its land to help these pollinators recover, which is not only a good thing from a wildlife perspective, but it’s a good thing from an economic perspective.”

Soliday said he would not support this change.

“I like bees, I like honey, but that’s for the locals to decide,” said Soliday.

He said other things this bill leaves to the locals include drainage issues, the complexity of the approval process and whether the company’s application meets state standards.

The bill provides an appeals process for the entity if the county denies the application.

As for its chances in the Senate, Soliday said it’s tough to say, but he is hopeful.

“Where do property rights begin and where do your neighbor’s begin? We’re trying to find the compromise that respects both, that is what we are trying to do,” said Soliday.

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