Last month the Marshall County Plan Commission began the process of creating county zoning regulations and standards for utility battery storage units.

The meeting notice said the Plan Commission will begin creating amendments to Article 3, Standard Zoning District Intent, Users & Standards, Article 6, Development Standards, and Article 10 Administration of the county’s zoning ordinance.

Ty Adley, the county’s plan director presented board members with an extensive report that lasted over an hour and a draft copy of the amended ordinance with the revisions for battery storage.  He explained some of the research and said they compared several ordinances from communities around the country, looked at regulations set by the National Fire Protection Association55 and Indiana Code.    

Adley sited information on battery fires and said, “While battery fires tend to be high profile events, they are relatively rare when compared to the number of installations.”  The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) database identifies 14 instances in the US.  There were 491 large utility scale projects in the US as of April 2023 for a fire incident rate of 2.9% and no fire resulting in the loss of life and many facilities were able to return to operation.

Aldey said some communities permit utility scale battery storage in agriculture zones as a special use while other allow them as a permitted use in industrial zones.

The presentation from Adley included fire concerns, training and emergency response, noise, definitions, flood zones, hazard mitigation, contamination, site plan requirements, decommissioning, bonding, restoration and more. 

The Technical Review Committee reviewed the proposed amendments and with a majority vote were in support although they had interest with additional information.   

The County Plan Commission conducted a public hearing.  Ten individuals spoke and four letters were read.   

Several local residents expressed their concerns about the overall safety of the units, types of batteries being used, concerns of contamination of soil and ground water, liability if neighbors would have to be evacuated and noise from their operation. They also suggested not allowing the battery units in agricultural areas.

The lead developer from Tenaska, James Hingston said there were 3 items they wanted them to consider revising.  First the setbacks that he called excessive. Second, they suggested an option to allow a waiver with participating and non-participating landowners to adjust the setbacks.  The third recommendation was to have the three-year review of bonds for restoration reviewed by a third-party instead of the Marshall County Commissioners.

John Grolich, President of the Marshall County Fire Association told the Plan Commission that the Culver and Plymouth Fire Chiefs and himself met with Tenaska to become familiar with the project and find out what education they would offer and possibly benefits to the fire service.   Following the meeting the fire chiefs were satisfied with Tenaska’s plans for safety and education for first responders.

Greg Hildebrand, President of the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation spoke about the importance of utility battery storage systems and the importance they are playing as part of the electrical systems works to meet the higher demand.   He also discussed the large capital investment that would have a positive effect on the county’s net assessed value.

At the conclusion of the nearly 3-hours meeting, Plan Commission members wanted time to review the information presented by Adley and to give them time to consider the public comments and allow additional time for additional research.  They tabled the utility battery storage amendments presented.

The Marshall County Commissioners have implemented a moratorium on utility battery storage units until October.