With at least two companies approaching Kosciusko County farm producers about using land for the mass production of solar power, Bob Bishop and Mike Long spoke at the county commissioners meeting Tuesday morning to bring awareness to the situation.

Bishop, the county Farm Bureau president, said, “Some of you may be aware that west of Leesburg there’s a big push for solar farms coming into the county. I’ve been contacted by two companies that want to use my farm ground to put solar panels on.”

He said one company was asking for between 1,000 to 2,000 acres to build on, while another is seeking 800 to 1,600 acres. Leases range from 25 to 35 years, include mineral rights, and some have five-year extention options held by the solar producers.

“I just want the commissioners to be aware that this stuff is going on,” said Bishop. “If it went through and everybody signed up and they put that many acres into solar panels, we’re going to take out a lot of farm ground that supports a lot of people in Kosciusko County.”

Bishop said there was an invitation-only meeting Tuesday night in Leesburg with solar producers and farmers interested in learning more about such a project.

“They’ll paint a rosy picture of the whole thing, but they don’t have to look out their bedroom window or their front window and see solar panels for the rest of their lives,” Bishop said.

He then switched gears from private citizen to speaking as the Farm Bureau president.

“Farm Bureau does not have a position right now,” said Bishop. “This is a program that seems to be being promoted by NIPSCO because they’re going to eliminate four of their coal fire generator plants in the state of Indiana, so they want to put solar in.”

Long, a county council member from Warsaw, asked the commissioners to look at the issue objectively.

“I look at this as another use of land and producing a commodity. Really no different than raising corn or soybeans,” Long said. “I would just hate to see the county have a stance of ‘you can do this, but you can’t do this with your land.’ I don’t know enough about it to say if we should regulate it or not.”

At its Jan. 22 meeting, the commissioners put a 60-day moratorium on anything that would permit construction of a solar farm. The board on Tuesday asked county assistant planner Matt Sandy to draw up another ordinance to extend the moratorium another 90 days, to run concurrently with the first measure. This will allow about five months for government officials to look at the different aspects of solar farms and make informed decisions. The additional extension ordinance will come before the Area Plan Commission at its March 9 meeting and, if approved as expected, it would come back to the county commissioners on March 19.

Sandy said the situation is similar to one the Plan Commission and commissioners addressed last summer and fall regarding commercial wind turbines, or “winds farms.” A much tighter set of regulations, which includes a bond for restoring property back to farm land if energy production is abandoned, was adopted.

The board also agreed to postpone opening bids on a bridge on Husky Trail near the north side of Warsaw. Highway Superintendent Scott Tilden told the board several contractors expressed concerns about being able to complete the project in a timely manner. Specifications were drawn up with a construction timeline to prevent interfering with nearby Harrison Elementary School.

Tilden said that ideas had been shared to build with pre-cast components that would make it possible to meet the deadline and cost the county less money. Bids for the project with the new specifications will be accepted until 9 a.m. March 19, and be opened at the commissioners meeting about 15 minutes later.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Gave the go ahead to Sheriff Kyle Dukes to apply for a $278,200 grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute for the Jail Chemical Addiction Program.

• Allowed County Administrator Marsha McSherry to purchase five security cameras and eight LED lights from Cottage Watchman Security Systems, Pierceton, and authorized $21,210 to Security Automation Systems, Indianapolis, for a situation-specific panic button system.

• Approved rezoning a 5-acre tract on CR 1350N near Nappanee from residential to agricultural. The change will allow owner Mark Hochstetler to construct an outbuilding and have farm animals as well as build a residence.

• Conditionally authorized rezoning a 1.2-acre tract at the intersection of EMS?B40 Lane and CR 450N. Owner Brian Erne agreed to not construct any pole barns nor place a mobile home on the property.

• Approved an encroachment agreement to allow a shed and stairs to remain in place on a right of way at the residence of 54 EMS B61 Lane, Warsaw.

The county commissioners’ next meeting is 9 a.m. March 5.