A Chicago-based company is seeking to construct a large solar farm in Sullivan County.
Fairbanks Solar Energy Center LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chicago-based Invenergy Solar Development North America LLC in July filed a petition with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission saying it intends to build, own and operate a solar facility that will generate about 250 megawatts of alternating current electricity.
The proposed solar farm would contain 579,652 solar panels on about 1,800 acres near Fairbanks, according to its filing with the IURC.
“Transmission and substation facilities are planned to be situated in Sullivan County,” the filing states.
The company seeks to have the IURC decline any jurisdiction to regulate the solar farm as it intends to sell power as an exempt wholesale generator. Selling to the wholesale power market means it will not recover costs from Indiana ratepayers through a base rate, rate of return or other comparable method associated with a retail public utility.
“The company is seeking the IURC’s approval to build and operate the facility, but the company does not plan to operate this to sell power directly to retail electricity customers,” said Anthony Swinger, spokesman for the Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor.
“It is seeking to sell power strictly on the wholesale market,” Swinger said. “If this were being built by a regulated Indiana utility for purpose of selling the power directly to its retail customers, then obviously that is something the IURC would closely regulate, as all of the construction costs, operating cost and maintenance costs would be recoverable through that utility’s rates.
“But, here, this is a project that would not directly affect electric rates for customers. It will sell the power into the wholesale market, which is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Swinger said.
“State law spells out several factors that need to be there for this to be approved and our review shows that factors have been met and we are recommending approval,” Swinger said.
In a Sept. 4 hearing in Indianapolis, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor did not oppose declining state jurisdiction, stating the company will fall “under the regulation of other state and federal regulatory bodies that will protect the public interest regarding the project’s future operation and wholesale energy transactions.
“Further regulation by the Commission would duplicate other regulatory bodies, could impede Fairbanks Solar’s ability to compete with other wholesale solar providers and would be unnecessary use of the Commission’s resources.”
The other regulatory agencies include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mid-Continental Independent System Operator, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Declining IURC jurisdiction is not new, Swinger said, as the IURC has done that in many other electric generating projects, largely for wind farm projects, such as Benton County Wind Farm, Hoosier Wind Project, Wildcat Wind Farm and Headwaters Wind Farm, all of which are overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
If Fairbanks Solar were to enter into a purchase power agreement with an Indiana utility to sell power to that utility, that would separately require an IURC review and approval, Swinger said. “A good example is NIPSCO recently received approval for three purchase power agreements to buy power from wind farms to sell to its customers,” Swinger said.
An email seeking comment Thursday was sent to Invenergy Solar’s communications director.
A evidentiary hearing is set for Oct. 1 on the Fairbanks Solar project. However, since the IURC is recommending approval, the hearing will likely be for a settlement agreement. That is also the same hearing date for Lone Oak Solar Energy, another Invenergy Solar project being sought in Madison County. There Invenergy Solar seeks to develop a 120 megawatt solar farm.
Sullivan County already has a solar farm.
In 2015, Sullivan Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Cypress Creek Renewables, began efforts to construct a 7 megawatt solar farm. Cypress Creek also has solar farms in Vigo and Clay counties.
Sullivan Solar was awarded a 10-year tax abatement in 2015 by the Sullivan County Council.
However, in June, the Sullivan County Council voted to rescind the tax abatement for Sullivan Solar, claiming a breach of a memorandum of understanding involving worker wages during construction.
In July, Sullivan Solar LLC filed a complaint against the Sullivan County Council in Sullivan Circuit Court claiming the county breached its agreement.
The litigation has been moved to Clay County Circuit Court. Attorney Terry R. Modesitt, who also serves as part-time Vigo County prosecutor, is representing Sullivan County.