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ANDERSON – A six-month moratorium on the development of any large-scale solar energy projects has been approved for Madison County.

Madison County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the Planning Commission's recommendation to impose the moratorium so the county’s 2017 ordinance can be reviewed.

In a change from normal proceedings, the commissioners allowed public comment before the vote.

A large crowd of opponents of the proposed Lone Oak Solar Farm in northern Madison County attended the meeting at the County Government Center.

The moratorium will not affect that 850-acre solar farm project being developed by Invenergy. Also, it will only cover unincorporated areas of Madison County and will not have an impact in Anderson, Elwood, Alexandria and Pendleton.

Several people asked the commissioners to extend the moratorium beyond six months and requested no time limit be set.

“A six-month moratorium is not long enough,” opponent Lee Walls said. “It should be open ended.

“Take time to get it right,” he said of the county’s solar energy ordinance.

Larry Hines, a resident of Dundee, said the unincorporated community will be at the epicenter of the Lone Oak Solar Farm development.

“It (moratorium) should be extended beyond 180 days,” he said.

Laura Arnold of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance said county officials should see what is taking place around Indiana when it comes to renewable energy.

“The power companies are trying to shut down the coal-fired power plants to improve the health of citizens,” she said.

Commissioner Mike Phipps asked why the moratorium only covered developments of 50 acres or more.

Brad Newman, director of the Madison County Planning Department, said the state is encouraging energy companies to develop green energy and the county didn’t want to hinder those efforts.

Newman said the entire ordinance will be reviewed including setbacks from nonparticipating property owners, the impact on property values and the possible leaching of hazardous materials.

He said it will be difficult to review the ordinance within six months.

Phipps made the motion to approve the six-month moratorium, adding he wished it could be longer.

“But I understand the urgency,” he said.

Commissioner John Richwine said the moratorium could be extended and a revised solar energy ordinance would not be presented until it was completed to the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners.

The Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals asked that county officials consider a moratorium on large solar developments after the board voted in May to approve the 850-acre Lone Oak Solar Farm.

The BZA approved measure requires a 500-foot setback from nonparticipating residential structures and 200 feet from property lines. However, an agreed waiver between Lone Oak and each nonparticipating resident would make possible a setback of 250 feet from a residential structure and/or a property line setback of 100 feet.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.

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