SB 411 has to do with creating an opt-in program whereby in exchange for cities or counties agreeing to standards for solar and wind farm projects in their community, the State of Indiana would provide an incentive payment per megawatt-hour of energy generated.
The Hoosier Environmental Council is very supportive of renewables and very supportive of incentives to promote renewables. We are supportive of the renewable energy siting bill SB 411 (with one key caveat)..
It’s so key that utility-scale solar farms are “built right”, from the vantage point of stormwater control, soil & water conservation, community pride, and more. These solar projects are very large – 1,000+ acres or more – and the total footprint of these solar farms, by the end of the 2020s, could be comparable to the size of Indiana’s entire state park system. Building these solar farms in a way that works with the topography, soil, drainage patterns, and more is so crucial. SB 411 does not prohibit local governments from enacting environmentally friendly solar ordinances, but it gives landowners — for counties that opt into the SB 411 incentive program — the power to “veto” such a county government requirement with respect to projects that they are involved in, as reflected on page 15, Section 11.
It is HEC’s concern — and that of other organizations that have reviewed this language (which did not testify on the bill) — that landowners could exercise “the veto” on the worry that such environmentally-friendly/pollinator-friendly fields will contaminate adjacent agricultural fields with invasives or noxious weeds However, there is no overlap between the pollinator-friendly plants recommended by the Xerxes Society, the national leader in pollinator conservation, and the detailed noxious weed list maintained by the DNR.
If an environmentally-friendly or pollinator-friendly county solar project (arising from an ordinance’s groundcover requirements) was rejected by virtue of a landowner veto, it could mean building a solar farm – that could last 20+ years – in a way that is not in the best interest of the county, from the vantage point of stormwater control, soil and water conservation, wildlife protection, or the aesthetics of the county.
We had proposed an amendment to either a.) delete the “agreed to by the landowner” language (in Section 11 above) or b.) replace it with language that gives County Extension Agents or Soil & Water Conservation Districts a say in determining whether a pollinator seed mix could pose a serious crop yield risk to adjacent crop fields. Despite an array of efforts by HEC and our allies, these amendments were not adopted.
SB 411 is set to become law, but it was stripped of any incentive payment. It’s unclear whether counties will participate in this program in the absence of an incentive payment.