CROWN POINT â€” Lake County is lighting the way for solar farm developments.
On Tuesday, the seven-member County Council unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing and regulating commercial-level solar panel installations in unincorporated agricultural areas of the county, in addition to the small-scale residential solar panels already permitted.
If the measure subsequently is endorsed by at least two of the three county commissioners, some Lake County farmland owners soon might be asked to lease their properties to solar farm operators that will harvest sunlight to power homes in the Region, instead of the corn, soybeans and other crops commonly grown in the county.
Invenergy LLC, headquartered in Chicago, has released preliminary plans for a $200 million, 200-megawatt solar farm on some 1,400 acres east of Interstate 65 and north of Ind. 2 that could power up to 40,000 homes.
But County Councilman Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John, said the solar farm ordinance isn’t specifically tailored for that proposal. Rather, it applies to all potential Lake County solar farms, which he said still will require approval from the county’s Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals before construction can begin.
“It was brought as an idea because it’s a possibility for south county that I want to make sure we don’t lose,” Jorgensen said. “We didn’t have an ordinance in our 1957 zoning book that provided for such a project, so that’s why I started the initiative to get this done and move it forward.”
Several south county agricultural land owners spoke in favor of the solar farm ordinance after investigating similar solar projects elsewhere in Indiana and Illinois.
One man, however, expressed concern about the 50 foot minimum setback from nonparticipating property owners, asking for more distance between solar and traditional farms.
Both the Plan Commission and County Council agreed the 50 foot setback is best. Adjacent landowners still can request the Board of Zoning Appeals consider a greater setback when an actual solar farm development is under review.
Other requirements of the ordinance include a 25 foot maximum solar panel height at full tilt, a landscaped buffer between solar farms and nonparticipating properties, vegetative cover under the solar panels to prevent erosion and manage water runoff, limited on-site lighting and noise, and a pre-construction plan and prearranged funding for decommissioning of each solar farm.