10/29/2019 Solar Exercise Image

Community members work together to develop a solar plan for Sunnyside, placing pins representing different sizes of solar installations.

Community members gathered to participate in a solar-planning exercise aimed at exploring solar energy from a land-use perspective on Tuesday night.

The Area Plan Commission invited community members to participate in a board-game activity called “Solar Powering Sunnyside.”

“I'm here because I feel like solar is a good opportunity to diversify our power sources,” August Mathisrud said. Mathisrud lives east of Lafayette, where a 9.6 kilowatt solar array on his roof powers his home and two electric cars.

The board game was developed by the American Planning Association and the U.S. Department of Energy, and tasked community members to design placement of solar panels through the fictional town of Sunnyside.

In round one of the activity, each community member was assigned a role — such as farmer, renter or environmentalist — and given a card outlining their interests and concerns. Each group was tasked with placing solar installations of varying sizes on maps of Sunnyside.

These solar installations ranged from 5-kW residential rooftop installations to one-megawatt solar farms, represented by pushpins and solar graphics. The groups each agreed on a goal for solar generation in Sunnyside, either 10%, 15% or 25% of total energy needs.

The groups had to make sure their solar development was in line with community priorities such as preservation of historical districts and farmland, as well as urban development and tree cover. In round two, each group explored how its solar plan fared under different types of zoning ordinances.

At the end of the rounds, each group shared what it learned from the activity as input for the APC. That input will be shared at the November APC meeting.

Sallie Fahey, executive director of the APC, said regulations are an important part of solar development. By providing an ordinance on residential solar for example, ordinances can make it easier for residents to install solar panels.

“There's no squabbling among neighbors and saying, 'Well, we don't want you to have it,' or the homeowners association saying 'You can’t do this,'” Fahey said. “It gives everybody sort of a level playing field."

In the solar exercise, regulatory silence proved more burdensome to solar energy than some of the zoning regulations.

Attendees said they want to participate in and learn about potential solar regulation in the community.

“I want to be active,” West Lafayette resident Rick Ruess said. “I'm currently active in the City of West Lafayette, I am concerned with what's going on in the county and I saw there's only one way to do it, is to get active in it.”

Ruess participated in the solar exercise, and said he was pleased in the direction he saw the community heading.

Brent Hutchinson, who also took part in the solar exercise, saw the event as a valuable learning opportunity. Hutchinson works for the nonprofit Solarize Indiana, an organization that works locally to encourage residential solar power.

“My interest in this event was seeing how to integrate with local laws and ordinances to partner with city governments to facilitate residential solar,” Hutchinson said.

The solar exercise was the first part of the APC's effort to introduce solar regulation in the county, Fahey said. There is a lot of interest in solar in the community, ranging from small-scale residential to large-scale, utility-scale farms, she said.

The solar-regulation process will take about six months as it is developed by the APC's ordinance committee and eventually voted on by the full APC, Fahey said.

“Ultimately we should end up with an ordinance, I'm assuming for both accessory rooftop (solar), maybe accessory freestanding (solar) and solar farms ... that govern how solar's developed in our county,” Fahey said.

By the APC's December meeting, Fahey said it would likely have an idea of the shape a solar ordinance would take.

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