'Fellas, it's a changing world' —Commissioners approve controversial solar ordinance

Staff Writer

    The Adams County Commissioners faced a packed meeting room Tuesday, with concerned citizens from Hartford Township taking up every seat. Looking out at the crowd, it was impossible to tell who was in favor of the solar ordinance and who was against — they sat together, asked each other about their families, passed out chairs to every newcomer. They were all rural Adams County residents, many of them farmers, and nothing else mattered.
    Commissioner Rex Moore started the discussion by addressing some of the comments aimed at county officials in the past few weeks. The solar ordinance — which allows local landowners to install solar panels on their farmland if they so choose, but heavily restricts what solar companies are allowed to do — has stirred up plenty of controversy and high emotions since it first came to light.
    Moore made it clear the county has not “partnered” with the solar companies in any way. These agreements are strictly between local landowners and the solar companies and the county has no say in lease agreements.
    When it comes to questions about how long the county has taken to decide on the solar ordinance, Moore said, “Which one of you would build a tower without first counting the cost?” Adding onto this, Moore said, “This decision about to be made has many consequences” and costs money, affecting every resident in Adams County — whether rural or urban.
    “This decision is not being taken lightly,” Moore stressed.
    With that said, Moore turned the floor over to the public.

    The first local farmer to speak was Carl Keller of Geneva, who owns four farms in Hartford Township, with two of his sons also farming in the township. Keller strikes the eye as a picture-perfect Adams County farmer, down-to-earth and stoic — undeniably “one of us,” yet also one of the figures at the center of this controversy, all because the solar company has an option on his youngest son’s farm.
    As Keller explained, a few years ago he purchased 100 acres on C.R. 650W for $800,000. Since then, he’s made a lot of improvements on the property — the list went on and on. But despite all these improvements, this farm has a negative cash flow. Installing solar panels will provide Keller’s family with rent money, making this “a very attractive investment,” Keller said.
    “My concern is the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules,” said Keller. “In this case, the solar company has the gold.”
    If small property owners win the battle against the solar company, the company will take their money and move on, Keller said — “And the landowners are the ones who are going to take a big hit.”

See Wednesday's edition for the full story.