Residents start to gather in the 4-H Fairgrounds exhibit hall in Alexandria before the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Thursday evening. The board listened to more statements in support and opposition of a proposed solar farm before setting a May 28 meeting for an expected vote. Staff photo by Ken de la Bastide
Residents start to gather in the 4-H Fairgrounds exhibit hall in Alexandria before the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Thursday evening. The board listened to more statements in support and opposition of a proposed solar farm before setting a May 28 meeting for an expected vote. Staff photo by Ken de la Bastide
ALEXANDRIA — A decision on the proposed Lone Oak Solar Farm in northern Madison County has been delayed again by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

A divided crowd of several hundred people attended the Thursday night meeting at the Madison County 4-H Fairgrounds.

The project has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Invenergy, the company proposing the 120-megawatt solar farm, and opponents of the $110 million project renewed their arguments for and against the project.

The Madison County board continued consideration of a special use request and two variances by the company until May 28 at 8:30 a.m. at the Madison County Government Center.

The company is seeking two variances: one from a setback requirement across multiple property lines secured through leases with local property owners and to have more three years to construct the project.

Katya Samoteskul, project manager for Invenergy, outlined several points the company will include in the project area.

It included a 250-foot setback from the nearest residential property, instead of a 50-foot setback required by county ordinance; a $100,000 surety bond for repairing any damaged drainage tiles for five years; hiring an independent third-party company to monitor groundwater on the site; and testing every two years.

“We have worked hard to exceed the requirements of the ordinance in terms of setbacks and landscaping,” she said.

Tami Davis, a member of the Frankton-Lapel Community School Corp. board, said the Lone Oak Solar Farm will provide $400,000 per year to the school system.

Opponents raised concerns about possible contamination from the solar panels, lower property values and the loss of prime farm land.

Samoteskul said there is a signal when a panel fails for it to be replaced and there have never been any concerns about toxic levels at existing solar farms.

Attorney Terry Hall, representing the opponents, presented additional conditions that they want the BZA to consider if a special use permit is approved.

They are asking for a 500-foot setback, testing groundwater on adjacent properties and a $1 million drainage bond.

“We admit the county passed an ordinance,” Hall said. “There are very few conditions. In other states the conditions are more stringent.”

When the county approved the solar farm ordinance, she said, it didn’t envision a project of this size.

“This is prime farm land that is poorly drained,” Hall said.

She said developers have been encouraged to locate in the Midwest because of the cheapest land and fewest conditions.

Hall admitted that the opponents didn’t have experts to support their positions.

“The company has provided you with the minimum amount of information,” she said. “We are asking for reasonable conditions to protect the neighbors.”

Mike MaRous, an appraiser for Invenergy, said there is no evidence of a loss of property values when a solar farm project is completed.

He said a 100-megawatt facility in Minnesota was one of several sites researched along with several in Indiana.

“A Texas study found no proven economic drop in value where solar farms are located,” MaRous said.

Hall countered that there is not enough information available on the impact on property values.

The proposed 850-acre site is between county roads 350 West and 600 West and 1000 North and 1300 North in Pipe Creek and Monroe townships.

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