Marshall County Resident Deb VanDeMark, who is leading the charge to protect citizens from the impact of industrial solar projects brought Attorney Jason Kuchmay from Fort Wayne to the Commissioners meeting on Monday.   He presented information requesting a moratorium on the solar and battery storage projects.

During the presentation, Kuchmay said he was representing a local group called Concerned Citizens of Marshall County Against Solar.  He said there are a number of county property owners in the group who asked him to request a temporary moratorium that would ban the filing of applications for commercial solar or battery storage systems while the county considers changes to the current ordinance on solar and the implementation of an ordinance regulating battery storage systems.

The attorney said, “I’ve seen what commercial solar can do to a community.  Not the least of which is unfortunately division among the residents, loss of jobs, and the removal of many thousands of acres of productive farmland from production.”

Kuchmay said just one project utilizes thousands of acres, with hundreds of thousands of giant solar panels, substations, cables, and inverters.  He said, “Make no mistake, this is not a solar farm, these are industrial utility plants.  They change the face of a county long-term and it’s important to get it right.”

The attorney explained that a moratorium is not saying no to solar.  It just temporarily maintains the status quo while allowing time to get proper regulations in place so solar can be done right. He went on to say about a moratorium, “It’s responsible and protecting the county and protecting the residents in the county and it’s protecting the rights of the non-participating property owners while allowing also for proper development.”

Mr. Kuchmay acknowledged the county’s current solar ordinance and said his clients believe additional protections need to be incorporated to protect property owners and also the county.  The existing ordinance says, “These solar regulations are necessary to minimize the adverse effects and to avoid potential damage to adjacent properties.”   The attorney said the current ordinance does recognize the impact and shows the county’s desire to protect the county and its citizens.  His clients don’t think the existing ordinance adequately meets the ordinance’s desire.

He also noted that the county has no existing ordinances to regulate the battery storage systems. 

The attorney presented the downside of industrial solar saying they negatively impact property values, destroy the rural nature of the area, take farmland out of production, increase runoff, impact the long-term fertility of the ground and promote job loss.

Some of the changes members of Concerned Citizens of Marshall County Against Solar would like to see include limiting where industrial solar projects can be located, increasing setbacks from the current 75 feet from a property line and 250 feet from residential structures, requiring a detailed fire safety program, improvements on the decommissioning plans, restrictions of transfers of ownerships of the properties and adding property value guarantees. 

There are additional concerns with both the large-scale solar and battery storage systems than were mentioned in Monday’s meeting. 

Attorney Kuchmay said, “My hope is that this morning’s conversation can demonstrate at least the importance of considering changes to the Marshall County Ordinance to protect the county, and to protect the non-participating property owners.”

Marshall County Commissioner Stan Klotz made the motion to place a temporary moratorium on the solar and battery storage systems until January 1, 2025. The motion died for the lack of a second even though there were unasked comments from the audience encouraging Commissioner Mike Burroughs to second the motion.

Commissioner Burroughs did say, he wanted to hear from the Plan Commission and Ty Adley, the county’s Plan Director on their recommended changes to the current ordinance. He said he is willing to listen to their recommendations on amendments or the need for a moratorium and make the best decision for the county and its citizens. 

County Attorney Jim Clevenger said there has already been a request made to the County Plan Commission to review the current ordinance and he said he believed it was being done.  He said things are already in process and there is no reason for a moratorium because the county already has rules in place for large-scale solar projects.  He did affirm that the county doesn’t have an ordinance on the battery storage systems yet but indicated it is being worked on.