A new solar farm project could help bring a brighter future to Merrillville. LightsourceBP is planning to create a multi-million-dollar solar farm on two parcels of property which are located on Colorado Street and Clay Street on the southeast side of Merrillville. The solar farm will produce clean and renewable energy, and it’s expected to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual property tax revenue. It will also create dozens of temporary construction jobs to build the farm.
The Merrillville Town Council on Tuesday at its September 12th meeting approved a variance of use allowing the solar panel operation on the two industrial-zoned parcels. “This is an exciting project that will not only help the environment, but it also will bring a variety of economic benefits to the Town of Merrillville,” Town Council President Rick Bella said. “The plan to add trees and a berm around the development means that it will not be visible from town streets.”
Town Councilman Shawn Pettit said initial plans for the project included a third parcel near 97th Avenue and Grand Boulevard, but residents in Merrillville’s panhandle area opposed the construction of solar panels on that 160-acre site, which has a residential zoning classification. “I solely supported all my constituents on that,” Pettit said, and LightsourceBP later withdrew the 160-acre site from the development plan.
Resident Sam Shelhart attended the Town Council meeting and thanked the council and Merrillville’s Board of Zoning Appeals for their efforts to keep the rural atmosphere in the panhandle area. “There are not many areas left in Merrillville like the panhandle, and it has and always will be the intentions of its residents to keep it in its natural environment for as long as possible,” Shelhart said.
Before the 160-acre site was removed from the plans, it was estimated that the development would involve a $100 million investment and would generate about $1 million in annual property taxes. Attorney Richard Anderson, who is representing LightsourceBP, said those figures will be a bit less because the 160-acre site is no longer involved, but they will still be significant. “It will be substantial, obviously, you can tell that,” Anderson said. “There’s still more than 300 acres” included in the development.
Merrillville Planning and Building Director Sheila Shine said LightsourceBP uses a “Responsible Solar” approach in its solar projects throughout the country. “Which means they work hard to make it a positive for the community,” Shine said. In addition to the environmental and economic benefits, the development will include a long-term land management and biodiversity plan. That plan can help create a pollinator habitat. The solar farm will also have natural undergrowth below the solar panels to help manage stormwater runoff and drainage.
Shine said the development also calls for a buffer zone around the perimeter of the parcels. Those buffer zones will feature a berm with trees, shrubbery, and an agricultural-style fence. Besides screening the project area, the trees and shrubbery will provide additional habitat for local wildlife. Anderson also indicated the solar farm will be quiet. “A lot less traffic than another industrial user…so it’s good for the traffic flow, too,” he said.
From the LightsourceBP website: LightsourceBP is dedicated to supporting communities that are home to our solar projects across America. That’s why we have an entire Community Relations team that works closely with our neighbors to maximize the positive social impacts of our projects. Our Community Relations team engages with host communities throughout the entire project lifecycle – from the time we start planning a solar project, through to construction and then operations. They meet with stakeholders to share project information, host educational events, and in turn, gather insights and feedback that help us improve our projects for your community. Our Community Relations team also forms philanthropic partnerships with non-profits, schools, and other local institutions that serve community members on the ground.
I will be meeting with LightsourceBP representatives to discuss how they can assist Merrillville and our 36,000 residents who love and call Merrillville home. -Rick Bella, Town Council President