Kyle Barlow, the leader of Stop Industrial Solar Plants in Shelby County, ventured once again to Indianapolis this week to speak against HB 1381.
This time, it was before the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, who approved a new amendment to the bill clarifying points the bill’s revision at the last committee meeting that were difficult to understand.
In short, the bill sets state standards on wind and solar projects. The current version looks completely different than the first draft introduced at the beginning of the legislative session.
This bill was last heard during last week’s Senate Utilities Committee, who passed the bill 9-2.
Senator Mark Messmer introduced Amendment Three to that meeting, which did away with appeals to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), grandfathered in local government’s more restrictive ordinances prior to July 1 (which is when the law would go into effect), and introduced an incentive to encourage counties to accept renewable energy companies.
The incentive is an up-to $3,000 per megawatt up front payment by the incoming renewable energy company to the local governments – if that local government establishes a Renewable Energy District (RED), or essentially accepts a renewable energy project into the area it governs.
Senator Jean Leising voted against the bill in that meeting because she felt there was no difference between what was currently in place and what the bill had to offer. Because the incentive is not mandatory, she figured companies would offset the initial incentive cost in the lease contracts with land owners.
Messmer introduced another amendment, Amendment Five, to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Tuesday afternoon.
“Amendment Five that we have today addresses several concerns that came up in committee, either from witnesses or committee members,” Messmer said.
It clarifies that investor-owned facilities are not covered by 1381, which was the intent of him and the author, Edward Soliday. It also clarified that projects in development before July 1 are exempt.
The amendment deleted the 40 percent land requirement for the REDs, at the request of the Association of Indiana Counties, he said. A previous version allowed for county governments to restrict land usage within their boundaries, but said they couldn’t restrict the use to less than 40 percent of the county’s total land acreage.
Additionally, the amendment added drainage repair requirements to the wind and solar sections, as requested by the Utility Committee members.
Messmer also added construction standards for solar systems within a RED zone for solar projects and an enhancement of $1,000 per megawatt.
“It can be done as a merged project of wind and solar in a RED, or it can be wind alone or solar alone,” he said.
Messmer also addressed amending ordinances that will be grandfathered in.
“The ordinances can be amended in the future without voiding the rest of the existing ordinance,” he said.
The bill states it can only be amended if the amendments are not making the bill more restrictive than it was when it was grandfathered in, and new amendments will need to comply with the state standards set forth in the bill.
“And we clarified that if no progress is made on a project that was approved ... after five years, the project needs to be resubmitted to the county again,” Messmer said.
Barlow testified against the bill, addressing specifically how the agriculture business will be impacted by loss of acreage to solar.
“I have two main concerns I would like to share,” he began. “First, counties that have not adopted a wind or solar ordinance prior to June 30, this year, will effectively be forced to accept wind and solar projects so long as the project satisfies the siting standards in this bill.”
“We can’t change an ordinance, if we find a future problem exists, that we want to make it more strict,” he said. “I find that to be a problem.”
“My second point, I did some data crunching for my county alone, Shelby County,” Barlow continued. “As per the 2017 USDA Agriculture Census Data, which is the most current, Shelby County had a market value of crops raised of roughly $119 million.”
“We would be siting these projects on about five percent right now – this is approved projects and sought-after projects in our county – that’s five percent of our farm ground,” he continued. “It’s over 10,000 acres. ... It is 40 Indianapolis Motor Speedways, in my county alone.”
“This means Shelby County could lose roughly $6-7 million in gross sales of ag projects,” he said.
Will Eberly, the director of government relations and external affairs for RWE Renewables, testified later in the meeting that these wind and solar projects bring $25-30 million per lifespan of the project, which is roughly 30 years.
If Barlow’s math is correct, and the county will lose $6 million per year, then the income the solar projects will generate over 30 years is less than the the income that would have been generated by the crops grown on the land.
By Barlow’s numbers, $180 million would be lost in agricultural business over 30 years if the land was being used for solar panels instead of crops.
“This is the side of the story that nobody is telling,” he said. “That money goes to employ seed salesman, insurance salesman, mechanics, equipment dealers, agronomists, input suppliers, truck drivers, plumbers and electricians, local retail stores, local groups such as schools and churches, fuel suppliers, building contractors, etc. etc. etc.”
“My local farming community runs on ag.”