The Marshall County Plan Commission continued to discuss the ordinance before them to amend the existing zoning ordinance setting regulations for Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS).

Last week County Plan Director Ty Adley read the proposed ordinance amendments and said the Technical Review Committee (TRC) had a majority recommend full approval of the amendments with the inclusion of the fire department’s access amendments. He said there were some areas of interest including the term “third party” and who has the right to select who the third party would be, the local EMA Director’s opinion that setbacks are too small, and the effects of EMF, and sound frequency.  Adley said the Plan Commission’s attorney feels there are a few sections that can benefit from clarity, but suggested amendments were not included. 

Adley said the initial proposal was tabled in February for additional information.  During the April meeting, the additional information was presented, and the proposed amendments were again tabled to consider the additional information and public comments.  Adley suggested the County Plan Commission again table the proposed amendments during the May meeting to digest the information provided and the comments from the public.

A public hearing was opened for the amendment to the zoning ordinance on Battery Energy Storage Systems.  Public comments were limited to 3 minutes.   

A dozen people spoke.  Casey Neidlinger asked about vetting the companies who want to develop a project in the county.  He asked about a financial analysis of the companies and was told that is not the role of the County Plan Commission.  Neidlinger also suggested creating a committee with stakeholders. 

Debbie VanDeMark has been vocal on the solar project and also spoke against the battery storage facility proposed in her neighborhood. She said the same presentation has been heard three times, but no changes have been discussed.  She asked about the hazards such as leakages and fire.  She also said it is more of an industrial project than an agricultural project and urged the plan commission to review “Ty’s ordinance” and carefully look at the words chosen.  VanDeMark suggested removing the agricultural district as a proper zone and putting it in an industrial zoning district.

Katie Lewallen from Culver told the plan commission she had an hour-long discussion with Tom Abbott, retired fire chief from Surprise, AZ.  He is on a committee writing a full curriculum manual for the International Association of Firefighters (IAF) to meet the needs of small to large departments. He discussed modular, unit, and container spacing and wrote the fire code for the Surprise, AZ Fire Department and greatly raised the bar from what NFP 855 defines to protect the firefighters.  Lewallen said NFP 855 is the lowest of standards. 

Connie Neininger from the National Center for Infrastructure and Economic Development in Monticello commended Plan Director Ty Adley on the amount of research he’s completed on both the solar and battery storage projects being proposed in Marshall County. She said battery storage may be new to Indiana, but energy storage has been around and addressed in many ordinances.  She compared a BESS to underground storage tanks for gas stations, grain elevators, fertilizer storage, bulk storage of petroleum products, propane, and ammonia.  Neininger said safety is the main concern of battery storage, especially of fires. Since 2012 there have been 22 battery fires nationwide.  In 2003 there were 7 fires compared to the average of 7.8 grain elevator explosions annually.  She also said the noise people are concerned about doesn’t come from the batteries but from the internal air conditioning system and fan and the standard in the county’s proposed ordinance is reasonable.  Neininger said battery storage facilities need to be close to where the energy is produced, and the energy is used. 

James Hingston the lead developer from Tenaska working on the Oriole Energy Storage Project in Burr Oak.  He again this month suggested reducing the setbacks from a residence to 200 feet and 50 feet from an external property line, which are still in excess of NFPA guidelines.  They also recommend removing the interior property line setback because decommissioning in this ordinance and state law already require the removal of the facility after its life. Their final recommendation is to have an agreed-upon third-party auditor review the bonding requirements every three years and not the county commissioners.

Plan Commission member Deb Johnson motioned to create a subcommittee to review the ordinance and seek additional information, but it died for lack of a second because there wasn’t enough information on the makeup of the subcommittee.

Johnson also made a motion to extend the moratorium on Battery Energy Storage Systems another 6 months and that was seconded by Matt Miller.  The Plan Commission’s attorney said that the extension must be approved by the commissioners, and the Plan Commission can only make a recommendation to the commissioners.

The third motion made by Deb Johnson was to propose an extension of the moratorium on battery storage for another 6 months and Matt Miller asked to have her modify it to one year extending until October 2025.  The vote was 4 yes votes, Johnson, Terri Barnhart, Matt Miller, and Breanna Slonaker.  There were 3 no votes, Chris Kline, Dave Hostetler, and Mike Burroughs.  This is a 9-member board so 5 members are needed to pass the motion.  Since only 4 voted in favor of proposing an extended moratorium it failed.                

After further discussion, Chris Kline made a motion to approve the amendments to the zoning ordinance as presented and it died for lack of a second. 

The Marshall County Plan Commission unanimously passed a motion to table action until their June meeting and investigate the possibility of having Mr. Abbott speak at the meeting and compare the NFP855 and NAF standards.   

There was also a motion to hold a special meeting with questions and answers from Mr. Tom Abbott and that passed unanimously too.