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St. Joe council to vote on bill slowing solar

Provided/American Public Power Association

Can a community ever produce too much renewable energy? St. Joe County leaders will tackle that question Tuesday night.

In 2020 St. Joseph County, seeking to attract new solar energy providers, enacted a solar farm ordinance that rolled out the red carpet. It allowed new solar energy systems to be installed anywhere land is zoned already agricultural.

Four years later, there’s been a bit of a backlash. It’s come to a head near North Liberty, where Houston-based Hexagon Energy, needing no special zoning approval, has been quietly reaching deals with property owners to lease space for the panels.

Since the 2020 ordinance took effect, American Electric Power built a solar farm in Granger, and Lightsource BP is building the Honeysuckle solar project east of New Carlisle. Lightsource will sell that energy to AEP as well.

Opponents of the North Liberty project say the panels will disrupt the area’s rural feel.

Tuesday evening the council plans a final vote on a billthat would require solar energy systems to obtain a special use zoning permit. That involves a public process where neighbors are allowed to speak. The new ordinance, if passed, would affect the North Liberty project since it hasn’t yet obtained construction permits.

Property owners, including struggling farmers, say the bill would violate their property rights. They want the right to lease their land to whomever they choose.

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).