ST. JOSEPH COUNTY RECOGNIZED FOR BEING “SOLAR-FRIENDLY”, PROMOTING POLLINATOR HABITAT CONSERVATION IN CLEAN ENERGY PROJECTS
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, IN -- St. Joseph County has now met national benchmarks for encouraging the growth of solar energy, receiving SolSmart Gold designation, the highest level that can be earned. St. Joseph County joins over 300 cities, towns, and counties across the country including adjacent counties Elkhart County and Marshall County, and the cities of Goshen, Nappanee, Plymouth, and South Bend who have earned designation with assistance from the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) since 2017.
SolSmart helps local governments make it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar. Through the SolSmart program, these communities received no-cost technical assistance and national recognition for their bold actions to advance solar energy locally. SolSmart helps local governments streamline permit approvals, review planning and zoning guidelines, facilitate group purchase campaigns, and train staff on best practices. The program is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.
St. Joseph County was recognized for having efficient permitting and inspection processes, providing information online, training staff on the codes related to solar energy, and training the fire department. The regional Solarize initiative lead by MACOG also expanded into rural and smaller communities, with educational workshops in four rural communities, including the Town of New Carlisle.
MACOG provided technical support to guide local governments through the SolSmart process.
“SolSmart provided a roadmap for communities in our region to proactively and safely manage the increasing interest in solar, driven by a sharp decline in costs by over 70% which brought solar into the mainstream across all sectors and scales over the last decade,” said MACOG’s Senior Environmental Planner Leah Thill.
Notably, St. Joseph County was the first county in Indiana to include a pollinator-friendly requirement in an update to the zoning ordinance in early 2020. Ground-mounted solar projects, such as the Indiana Michigan Power’s St. Joseph Solar Farm under construction, are required to include vegetation that provides pollinator habitat and will actually serve to improve the quality of the soil and reduce storm water runoff over the life of the project.
Bill Schalliol, St. Joseph County’s Economic Development Director, added, “We have had a strong team working to earn this designation. We look to continue to promote development with a strong environmental preservation component. I’m pleased to announce that we have several solar projects presently being reviewed by our Planning & Zoning Team and we anticipate an announcement of larger solar projects this year. We are encouraged to see public sector projects like the solar farm being developed near North Liberty Elementary School by the John Glenn School Corporation. We are also proud to be a leader in requiring pollinator-friendly vegetation as part of solar project development in the County.”
Another utility project is nearing completion near Bittersweet and Cleveland Road, the 210 acre St. Joseph Solar Farm expected to power 2,700 homes annually. Indiana Michigan Power provided a comment following St. Joseph County’s SolSmart designation.
“At I&M, being part of the community and providing for a sustainable energy future is what we do. I&M’s Saint Joseph Solar Farm allows us to bring our largest solar farm to the people and businesses of the Michiana area,” said Brian Bergsma, Director of Communications and Government Affairs at Indiana Michigan Power. “I&M is going above industry standards to design a project with environmental benefits beyond the clean energy as the St. Joseph Solar Farm is designed to create a habitat for pollinators. We applaud the leadership of St. Joseph County and the entire Michiana area to pave a path to a greener future for our community for many years to come.”
One of the nation’s leading authorities on pollinator habitat conservation, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever, commented on St. Joseph County’s leadership. “Increasing the structure and diversity of planned pollinator projects within solar energy development not only provides critical wildlife habitat, but also a wide variety of agricultural and ecological benefits for energy retailers, consumers, and neighboring properties,” stated Michael Retterer, National Right of Way and Energy Coordinator for Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever. “As solar energy continues to expand, encouraging quality habitat practices that promote pollinator health and a myriad of environmental benefits should be at the forefront of every project. Congratulations to St. Joseph County for being a pioneer in sustainable energy development,” Retterer said.
Additional resources are located at http://macog.com/solar_energy.html, including a technical guide, a Pollinator Scorecard from Purdue, and presentations from the APA-Indiana Seminar on solar and land use in July 2020. More information on SolSmart designees can be found at www.SolSmart.org/SolSmart300.
SolSmart is a national designation and technical assistance program that recognizes leading solar communities and empowers additional communities to expand their local solar markets. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, SolSmart strives to cut red tape, drive greater solar deployment, and make it possible for even more American homes and businesses to access solar energy to meet their electricity needs. More than 300 local governments in 40 states and the District of Columbia have achieved SolSmart designation, representing 82 million people. SolSmart is led by The Solar Foundation and the International City/County Management Association. Learn more at SolSmart.org.