The Journal Gazette
Saturday, February 27, 2021 1:00 am

Energy regulatory bill criticized

County opposes state controlling rules over wind, solar


The Allen County commissioners Friday joined with those of more than 40 other Indiana counties in opposing a state bill regulating renewable energy.

Commissioners said House Bill 1381, which would set standards for wind and solar installations, would place decisions about them at the state level instead of in the hands of local officials.

The bill includes setback requirements, height restrictions and sound-level rules usually handled by local plan commissions and zoning boards and would replace a patchwork of local rules.

Commissioner Nelson Peters, a Republican, said he recently attended a conference of Indiana's county commissioners where the bill was discussed. The conclusion was the bill “takes away the ability of local government to regulate things like windmills,” he said.

“It's not that people were against renewable energy, but in favor of local control,” Peters said of those opposing the bill.

House Bill 1381 is authored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. The bill passed the House by a slim margin of 58-38 and now will be heard in the Senate.

The commissioners' resolution said decisions about commercial windmills and solar arrays “are best made by the citizens living in the community, rather than by the wind and solar industry or State officials who live outside the community.”

The resolution goes on to say that such legislation “would disenfranchise the citizens of the ability to determine the conditions under which wind energy and solar energy projects would be allowed in their county.”

Renewable energy has been undergoing a boom in Indiana, partly because of environmental conditions – flat open areas that increase wind speed and abundant sunshine during much of the year.

State officials have reported that since 2008, developers have installed more than 1,000 wind turbines on large wind farms, and more than 1,000 megawatts of new wind power are planned or under construction.

The bill's supporters include the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Clean Grid Alliance and Hoosiers for Renewables, a group of large industrial manufacturers and developers of renewable energy.

Proponents contend the many different regulating bodies are hampering expansion of the industry and general economic growth. Global companies are considering large investments that may not happen under current circumstances, according to testimony during hearings on the bill.

Also, proponents say Indiana companies and the climate could benefit from renewable energy.

Commissioners said the bill is part of a trend toward state regulations supplanting local ones, even though the state is not a one-size-fits-all place. They said they don't want to expand the precedent.

In other business, the commissioners approved a four-year contract worth $500,000 per year for continued operation of six recycling stations for county residents without curbside recycling.

The contract is with Republic Services, which has been providing services for several years. But it was offered only a one-year extension last year, said Tom Fox, director of the Allen County Department of Environmental Management.

The new contract amount is about an 8% increase, he said. The increase can be traced to an ongoing depressed market for recyclables as well as an increase in recycled cardboard from deliveries of online purchases during the coronavirus pandemic, Fox said.

The commissioners also approved a $2,000 settlement for unspecified injuries alleged by Dennis L. Salley while an Allen County Jail inmate.


City Council opposes cell tower bill

The Fort Wayne City Council announced Friday it is opposed to House Bill 1164.

A letter to state Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, that was signed by all nine City Council members said the bill would take authority away from local city and county governments in regulating the placement of cellphone and other telecommunication towers in local rights of way in cities, towns and counties.

“Both neighborhoods and rural areas are affected here,” the letter said. “As Fort Wayne City Council members, we are sensitive and knowledgeable about the need for updated technology so communication devices can be properly placed.”

But many of the new technology cellular towers are being positioned in neighborhoods and in rural areas without council's input, the letter said. “They intrude on properties and are unsightly. Some are quite large and can block views, with unlimited density, unrestricted height, and unrestricted numbers,” the letter said.

– Jim Chapman, The Journal Gazette

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