Solar farm company faces some opposition in Marion County

Kitchens has collected 150 signatures from nearby residents opposed to the solar farm.

Solar energy may be the future, but it's already become a hot issue in Decatur Township in southwest Marion County.

That's where Minnesota-based Sunrise Energy Ventures plans to plant an $11.5 million solar farm, one that will power up to 1,500 homes for IPL.

It's slated to go on 44 acres along 5901 West Southport Road. The Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals Division One signed off on a 3-2 vote, following heated debate Tuesday afternoon.

Citybeat reporter Mary Milz caught up with people on both sides before the meeting began.

Greg Kitchens' family farm butts up against the cornfield soon to become a field of solar panels. His connections are deep-rooted.

"I grew up on this farm," he said. "I went to grade school and high school in the area, my whole family did."

Kitchens makes it clear he's not opposed to solar, wind, thermo, even nuclear energy, but he doesn't want to see thousands of solar panels built on the property adjacent to his.

"Everything has a purpose and a place and I feel like this is not the place to have it," Kitchens said.

He worries about the impact on property values, especially the 300 homes across the way in the Crossfield subdivision. It's where Ted Dobracki lives.

"Even if it's legally permissible it will be lousy," Dobracki said.

He's most worried about the "visual impact," not just the panels but the six-and-a-half-foot high fence and security wire surrounding the site.

"Another impact is the noise from the humming inverters and the possibility of glare," he said.

But developer Dean Leischow called the impact of the project minimal.

"It's quite low to the ground, there are no sight lines and the land could be returned to its natural state when it's done," Leischow said.

As for the glare?

"It glares about as much as a lake. There's about two-percent reflectivity," he said.

Pat Andrews, who chairs the Decatur Township Civic Council, stressed, "solar is not the problem, the problem is not (here), not this parcel."

Andrews said the southwest portion of Decatur Township has long been pegged for higher end. It's remained in three comprehensive plans.

"From Unigov on, this area has been designated for low-density residential," she said, noting all sewer lines come from the north. "If this parcel gets built up with solar panels, the sewer lines (to new developments) will have to go all around" the (130-acre parcel) "increasing the cost" of any new residential development.

She added, "If they would have called us, we would have told them about the problem with this site and suggested others...there's 100 acres at the end of Thompson Road south of I-465 that would have been perfect."

In response, Leischow said, "We're a little restricted. We have to be right on a power line and power lines are not everywhere, so every piece of property that's open won't necessarily work for us."

While Kitchens collected 150 names from nearby residents opposed to the solar farm, there are homeowners in favor of it.

Debbie Alley is among them. Her house of five years backs up to solar site. She said she'd prefer the panels to more houses.

Alley said, "It doesn't bother us at all...It's why I moved here. There was nothing behind us except for a farm."

Given the zoning appeal board's vote, she will soon have a solar farm behind her.

Leischow said plans are to break ground in August with construction taking about eight months.

Andrews said opponents only recourse now was taking the issue to court, something they'd have to further discuss.

The zoning board also signed off on plans for a solar farm at 10321 East Southport Road in Franklin Township. That project had no known opposition. It will also be developed by Leischow's Sunrise Energy Ventures.

IPL response

Eyewitness News asked IPL a couple of questions on the solar farm:

What is IPL's position on this parcel of land?

IPL's role is to be the system off taker through an agreement approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and ensure we can safely interconnect the solar projects to our system. Ultimately, it is up to the developers to decide where these projects will be located, and to obtain any necessary permits.

Will these solar project cause rates to go up?

For IPL, solar projects help us to diversify our generating resources. While solar and wind are more expensive than IPL's base load generation, to ensure these projects have a minimal impact to our customer costs we have limited the number of projects.