The Indiana Senate approved a bill that would reward communities that choose to adopt certain renewable energy siting standards with financial incentives.
Senate Bill 411, introduced by Sens. Mark Messmer, Eric Koch and Lonnie Randolph, would establish the “commercial solar and wind energy ready communities development center”
within the Indiana Economic Development Commission.
The center would certify communities that volunteer to participate as “commercial solar energy ready” or “commercial wind energy ready” if they meet certain renewable-friendly citing standards established in the bill.
The IEDC would then give those communities $1 for every megawatt hour generated by the wind or solar project.
The bill does not identify how the state would pay for the incentive, which the communities would receive in addition to taxes collected from the projects and other money negotiated with the renewable energy companies.
“Senate Bill 411 is completely voluntary. The bill sets up siting standards that they need to adopt to be approved, removed, approved as ‘renewable ready,’” Messmer said before the Senate vote. “If a county has strict ordinances that prohibit renewable development in their county now, they're free to keep those in place.”
The bill is supported by renewable energy companies, the Association of Indiana Counties, Association of Indiana County Commissioners, Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Earth Charter Indiana, the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club and other organizations.
The bill is a second attempt to standardize renewable siting in order to prevent renewable energy companies from abandoning the state after a spate of restrictive ordinances were enacted in dozens of Indiana counties, essentially banning wind and solar installations there.
Last year, Rep. Ed Soliday introduced House Bill 1381, which sought to override local ordinances by establishing statewide renewable siting standards. The bill was amended to grandfather in older local ordinances and passed the House. The bill faced defeat in the Senate and was withdrawn by Sen. Mark Messmer.
Some renewable companies attributed the bill’s defeat to both real and manufactured opposition to wind and solar projects.
At the 2021 American Clean Power Siting and Environmental Compliance Virtual Summit, Apex Clean Energy vice president for public affair Dhavi Wilson said another factor for its defeat was a lack of support from environmental groups.
“One of the opponents to that bill, unfortunately, was the environmental community, who was upset that it might limit their ability to get local governments to require pollinator habitat to be associated with solar projects,” Wilson said. “And it was a really unfortunate example of how we can sort of work at cross purposes with each other. That bill would have probably facilitated the development of a fair amount of renewable energy in the state and instead was killed in part because a few Democrats came off support due to the environmental pushback.”
Concerns about ground cover management continue.
The Hoosier Environmental Council, one of the most prominent environmental advocacy organizations in the state, said it was neutral on the bill in its current state.
The organization said it would shift its support to an “enthusiastic yes” if a single line was removed from the bill that allowed landowners to veto ground cover requirements, like the use of pollinator seed mixes, a vegetation plan or the use of economically feasible and region-appropriate noninvasive species.
The HEC said that provision could allow landowners to “veto” those requirements.
Sen. Shelli Yoder, who voted in favor of the bill, said the language of the bill would affect tens of thousands of acres of land by the end of the decade.
“How we choose to manage the land under these solar farms will have a major impact on stormwater runoff, flooding soil and water conservation and our population of pollinators, who are so vital to Indiana's fruit and vegetable growers,” Yoder said. “So, should SB411, which I do support, advance to the house, I want to work with you, Sen. Messmer, and the House at making sure we are addressing the ground cover language in to make sure it's in the right place.”
The bill now heads to the Indiana House of Representatives for consideration.