top of page

SJC Solar Moratorium Degrades Clean Energy Future

St. Joseph County (IN) purports "that it is in the public interest to encourage the use and development of renewable energy systems to enhance energy conservation efforts and promote sustainable development. As such, the County supports the use of solar energy collection systems…" (154.511 SES, Ord. 17-20, 2/18/20).

That's the theory. The reality is very different.

Across the state border, sheep graze among commercial solar panels.

The County gives lip service to clean energy as if the declared intent alone yields real quality of life. Instead of supporting solar, some St. Joseph County (SJC) Council members propose "a twelve month moratorium on all large scale and/or commercial Solar energy production including Solar farms." The sponsors of the resolution, Bill No. 76-24, want "to more comprehensively study solar farms and their impact."

This community spent two years and countless man-hours on a new Comprehensive Plan that would likely answer their questions.  Solar energy was a feature in at least four of eight pillars of the Comprehensive Plan--Utilities, Environmental Stewardship, Farmland Preservation, and Quality of Life. How will this Council conduct a year of study that exceeds the rigor of the Comprehensive Plan?  

Among solar energy's indisputable attributes,:

  • it lessens air pollution;

  • it doesn’t impinge upon the aquifer;

  • it has no light pollution;

  • it has no noise pollution;

  • it supports biodiversity;

  • it is proven safe technology;

  • it can continue to support agriculture;  

  • it allows soil to be nourished for decades;

  • its land can be reclaimed at decommissioning; and

  • "it is in the public interest."

With a moratorium, the Council wants to entertain the loud misinformation that overwhelms the legitimate concerns of neighbors and landowners. Many solar opponents reflexively say, "We don’t want commercial solar; put it on rooftops." It would make sense for a handful of people who don't own a suitable roof to collectively lease out a third party's roof space.   Imagine how our schools or churches, for example, could use the easy income from leasing out their unused roof space!  But in Indiana that’s illegal.  Yes, illegal.

For example, maybe you rent, or you can't afford an entire solar array, or you live near trees, or you can't afford a long-term investment. At the same time, you want to do the right thing for the future while lowering your electric bill. That practice, where some unrelated parties invest in a collective solar array, is called community solar. However, the only party for whom there is enabling legislation to approve community solar projects in Indiana is--ready of this?--the publicly owned utility company!  The fox is truly in charge of the hen house.

So if you’re a Hoosier barking that rooftop is the only answer, not farmland, then your advocacy voice is barking up the wrong tree. You shouldn’t be calling for a moratorium and the death of commercial renewable energy at the County level, you should be calling your State representatives and saying, “Let Hoosiers choose real community solar and be energy independent.”

While it may be wonky news for some riled up opponents to land-based solar, the total space required for our national clean energy needs exceeds the space available on rooftops. We need about 0.5% of the contiguous United States covered in solar arrays. That compares with 43% of the US surface area that is used for agriculture. We can't get there with rooftop alone, even if we weren't held back by state legislators.

An arbitrary moratorium on all commercial production is chilling and will chase away businesses that would locate here both now and in the future. Who is going to want to invest in the requisite lead time if a fickle County Council might simply extend their comprehensive studies even longer. You might as well put up billboards at the County borders that say, "St. Joseph County: Closed for clean business. Please remember us another year."

Road sign: St. Joseph County closed to clean energy.

Solar energy is a safe, proven technology that has been evolving for decades, and it will keep evolving for decades. Bill 76-24 pines for some kind of perfection at the expense of very good.  If the moratorium is enacted, the County's development zeal will only welcome concrete pads on prime farmland topped by warehouses and data centers.

If you’re going to pause investment in known clean energy, then pause what we know degrades our resources. The County wants to draw in businesses like data centers that consume vastly more energy and make outsized demands on our natural resources without providing a clean means of providing that energy.   If anything, we need to ramp up our renewable energy production, not push it away.

There are many issues raised on the County Council agenda for July 9, 2024, such as the excessive boundary requirement, but the most egregious is shutting down commercial solar development in St. Joseph County. The state restricts community solar on rooftops, and now the County wants to stop most solar on land.  

I'm reminded of Thomas Edison, who said:

We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Natures inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

The proposed moratorium on commercial solar projects isn't a quaint little pause, it's a severe degradation of a clean energy future and quality of life in St. Joseph County, IN.


Commenting has been turned off.
Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page