May 10, 2024 at 10:28 p.m.

New Jay advances

Proposed solar facility clears plan commission


New Jay Solar is charging forward.

Jay County Plan Commission approved a development plan for the project from Hodson Energy following a public hearing Thursday.

New Jay Solar, a 311-acre farm planned in Richland Township just east of Dunkirk, is the fourth solar facility to formally begin the process of planting roots in Jay County. The farm will be fenced in with a 25-foot buffer from adjoining properties. The buffer includes a pollinator-friendly seed mix, explained Hodson Energy’s attorney Maura J. Hoff of DeFur Voran, Muncie, as well as a 10-foot “dense screen” of evergreens and trees native to Indiana. Local farmers’ sheep will also be allowed to graze around the property, providing some “natural maintenance to the site as well,” Hoff added.

“The area is ideal for this kind of development because it’s going to essentially create a buffer zone between the industrial uses that are there along the Dunkirk border and the rural residential further to the east,” explained Hoff.

Hodson Energy estimates it will invest around $67.5 million into the farm, which is anticipated to produce up to 39 megawatts of energy and employ one to two full-time solar technicians on site.

Per the economic development agreement previously approved by Jay County Commissioners and Jay County Council, Hodson Energy will provide $2.516 million in economic development funds to Jay County over four years estimated to start in 2028. (Construction is expected to begin no later than June 30, 2026, with the plant beginning to generate electricity by Dec. 31, 2027.) 

Commissioners have approved road use and decommissioning agreements with the company. Council approved a 10-year tax abatement with Hodson Energy. The company will have 100% of property taxes abated over the entirety of the 10-year period, saving Hodson Energy $4.4 million in property taxes.

She noted Hodson Energy has also committed to donate to Dunkirk Fire Department as well in the event issues crop up on site.

Deb and Ralph Caffey and John Bowlan, all of rural Redkey, asked questions and shared their thoughts about the project.

“Jay County doesn’t care about its people anymore — it’s all about the money,” said Deb Caffey.

Answering questions from the crowd, Kyle West of Hodson Energy noted the solar panels come with an anti-glare coating. Windows and bodies of water, he said, give off more of a glare than the coated panels.

Ralph Caffey asked if rainwater dripping off the panels — they are angled to allow rain and other debris to slide off them — will be contaminated with chemicals. West mentioned various studies conducted over the last 75 years on solar panels and said they showed no contamination from the panels. (The panels’ underlying substrate may only be penetrated in the event of a chemical fire, which is rare, he said.)

“These projects are on almost 50% of military bases in the country,” he said. “They’ve been on the White House three times. They have been vetted so thoroughly for almost 10 years.”

“These sorts of concerns come up a lot, and I understand why, because this just seems like a new use. And it is somewhat new use to this area, I understand that.

“But from a practical standpoint and from a technology industry standpoint … it really has no harmful effects,” he continued.

Deb Caffey asked how the project will benefit Jay County and said the county won’t be utilizing the electricity generated by New Jay Solar.

“When we flip that light switch, we don’t know where that power’s coming from,” responded commission member Jeanne Houchins.

She also later noted the economic development payments promised from each solar company planning a facility in Jay County, pointing to economic development dollars distributed from the two wind farms — Bluff Point and Bitter Ridge — established in previous years. She listed various projects funded by the dollars in all Jay municipalities, including repairs to Salamonia Schoolhouse Center and Portland Water Park, road work and park additions.

“These dollars that the county gets are dispersed back out into each community,” she said.

John Hemmelgarn, director of Jay-Portland Building and Planning, noted the commission’s responsibility Thursday was to determine whether Hodson Energy’s project meets the terms of the zoning ordinance for solar facilities. He noted it does fulfill the county’s requirements.

Commission members Brad Daniels, Scott Hilfiker, Michelle Penrod, Steve Ford, Aker and Houchins approved the development plan Thursday.

Also, county attorney Wes Schemenaur noted Jay County Redevelopment Commission plans to present its new economic development plan to the board next month.

The plan serves as a guide for how to potentially allocate dollars coming in from the tax increment financing (TIF) district, which covers approximately 191 acres southwest of Portland in Greene Township. (It was created about 15 years ago after plans to build an ethanol plant in rural Jay County were announced. TIF dollars had been used to pay off bonds associated with road work and sewer improvements near the plant, with the last bond being paid off in 2023.)

Items on the plan include projects for transportation enhancements, public safety enhancements, utility infrastructure, child care projects, Jay County Highway Department improvements, a new building for Jay County Solid Waste Management District and a public safety building and development of the 68 acres owned by the county on the western edge of Portland.

As of March, the redevelopment commission had more than $851,000 in TIF dollars available, with another $573,448.82 expected by the end of the year.

PORTLAND WEATHER

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