Culver citizens Janette Surrisi, Deb VanDeMark, and Paul Levett appeared before the Culver Town Council Tuesday evening to discuss the town’s solar ordinance. 

Surrisi told the Culver Council she heard VanDeMark and Levett talk about industrial solar and industrial batteries at a recent county meeting. After hearing about their issues, she decided to look at Culver’s solar regulations.  She said, “I found our ordinance to be a mixed up cut and paste effort that leaves Culver open to industrial solar development about anywhere in Culver and in the 2-mile zone.”  Janette gave an example of her comment about “copy and paste.” Reading from Culver’s ordinance it states, “The developer has the duty of compliance with reasonable conditions laid down by the Marshall County Plan Commission. She explained that it should be the Culver Plan Commission.

The ordinance permits micro, small rooftop, and ground-mounted solar installations in all major Culver zoning districts: suburban, residential, lake, commercial, industrial, and agricultural.  Surrisi said the medium scale, less than 40,000 square feet, and large-scale over 40,000 square feet are also permitted uses in every zoning district in Culver.   The medium and large-scale operations must fill out a permit and submit a site plan to the Technical Review Committee (TRC) and get the town’s building commissioner to sign off.

Surrisi said the site plan requirements are minimal.  She said, “The ordinance leaves a lot to be desired.”  She said the setbacks for solar are the same as regular housing, Suburban is 25 feet front and back and 15 feet on the side; Lake is 25 feet front and back and 15 feet on the side; Residential is 25 feet front and back and 10 feet sides.

The local attorney also listed several other items that should be included in the solar ordinance site plan.   She also suggested making industrial solar projects a special use and not a permitted use so surrounding neighbors can participate in a BZA hearing. 

Surrisi also brought up the large-scale battery storage units that are being developed in Marshall County.  She said Culver’s ordinance has nothing on how to zone for them.  She suggested the Town Council certify a proposal to the Plan Commission for a moratorium until October 2024 on large-scale solar energy systems and utility-scale battery energy storage systems in Culver and the 2-mile zone until they can develop a better zoning ordinance to address the concerns.

Deb VanDeMark said while her focus has been on the county ordinance after listening to Jeanette’s presentation, Culver’s ordinance needs work as well. She said her concerns are only with large-scale solar operations.  Deb suggested hiring experts that understand the concerns and assist with developing the language for the county and Culver’s ordinances.  VanDeMark asked, “Will you join us in discussions and solutions on this huge project?  If approved, it will be here for many years and it will be too late to change it.  Would you consider a moratorium on large-industrial solar farms on agricultural land in the 2-mile zone?” 

Paul Levett laid out 3 points of the county’s solar ordinance. First, the county’s setbacks are too short for industrial solar at 250 feet from the right-of-way, 75 feet from property lines, and a mere 250 feet from residential homes.  Second, there is no Emergency Fire Safety Plan and Third, there are no Property Value Guarantees for the people who will be surrounded by these solar fields.  His suggestion is a minimum setback of 500 feet from residential structures, rights-of-way, and property lines.  Levett also said to put the cost of the Property Value Guarantee on the billion-dollar company wanting to install the industrial solar farm.  Paul also said the solar company should provide the needed training for emergency services, so the local taxpayers don’t have to cover that cost. 

The council also allowed the public to speak. Greg Hildebrand Executive Director of the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation explained the project won’t get any bigger than the 1,500 acres already under option.  He also commented while some people are saying having solar would be a stigma for the county, Greg said new companies looking at Marshall County ask about the mix of renewable energy power.  Hildebrand said the stigma would be that Marshall County isn’t progressive.

The MCEDC director also explained to the Culver Town Council the two projects that are currently underway in the county, the solar farm, and a battery energy storage system.  He said one is not necessary for the other, they both are interested in the Burr Oak location due to the transmission lines and the substation.

Hildebrand said, “Be careful what you ask for.  Increasing the setback will cause more farmland to be taken out of production.”

Chris Kline, also a Culver resident said there’s a lot of misinformation.  He suggested before enacting a moratorium the town should take some time and get more information. 

The Culver Town Council enacted a 2-year moratorium on large-scale solar projects and utility battery energy storage systems with 4 members voting yes and Rich West voting no.