It’s good advice to not look directly at the sun.

Henry County residents and planners, instead, are turning their eyes to the county’s rules when it comes to turning sunlight into electricity.

Henry County already has two “utility scale” solar farms and a scattering of solar panels at homes and on farms.

At least two new energy companies are also eyeballing local land for large-scale solar farms.

A group of local concerned citizens asked county leaders in October for a moratorium “on any solar energy system being proposed or that might be proposed in the future in the county.”

No moratorium went into place, but the Henry County Planning Commission started gathering information this year about the solar ordinances from around Indiana in preparation to update the current local regs.

Planning commission members heard from speakers this month from Henry County REMC, Indiana Municipal Power Agency (IMPA), lobbyist group Solar United Neighbors (SUN) Indiana and solar energy equipment company Johnson Melloh Solutions to learn more about the industry.

Henry County REMC is a utility co-op that provides power to rural residents throughout the county. The REMC operates a 1-megawatt solar field along Interstate 70.

IMPA is a municipal power company that services several local communities, including Spiceland. IMPA opened a solar field in Spiceland in January 2018. The solar park has 1,983 panels and produces just over 0.5 megawatts, enough electricity to power approximately 75 homes, according to information provided by IMPA.

The Indiana chapter of nonprofit Solar United Neighbors (SUN) works to help members purchase and install solar panels using a single installer at a group rate. SUN Indiana Program Director Zach Schalk has previously said the organization is focused on building a solar movement in Indiana by fighting for better solar policies.

Johnson Melloh Solutions specializes in installing solar systems around municipal buildings. They installed the solar array at the Indianapolis International Airport.

The Henry County Planning Commission wanted to know the difference between personal-use solar panels and a utility-scale service.

Henry County REMC CEO Shannon Thom said the co-op limits members to a solar system that produces 150 percent of what their property consumes.

“The real question is, a homeowner wants to put solar panels on their home and their home is using 15kW, but they want to put 75 (kW). They’re wanting to have all the energy they can possibly use and sell it back to us. Are they a generator or are they a consumer? And where does that fine line get drawn?” Thom said.

Based on the REMC standards, if a home consumes 15kW in energy, they can install a solar system that creates 22.5kW.

“At this point, there’s a line in the sand drawn that says if they’re above 50(kW), then they are a generating facility and we won’t even work with them. We pass them directly to Hoosier Energy. Hoosier Energy treats them like any other generator that would want to connect (to the power grid),” Thom said.

Thom said the size limits may change as the energy distribution systems change.

Jack Alvey, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer IMPA, talked about the different factors IMPA considers before building a new solar farm.

“When we build the site, we bring certain values to the community, with being able to provide the stable, low-cost power supply to our members,” Alvey said.

Alvey said IMPA hopes there aren’t “undue restrictions on the zoning and location for the sites” of small town solar arrays.

SUN Indiana Program Director Zach Schalk cited Indiana state code about local ordinances that might be “prohibiting or unreasonably restricting the use of solar energy systems” in Hoosier communities.

Schalk suggested Henry County’s new code list rooftop solar panels as “accessory use by right” and be treated like other county development code uses.

He also said defining “solar panels” should be based on the size and impact, not on any kind of energy-producing capacity or any other technology factor that is likely to change in the future.

“The technology is changing drastically, the market is changing drastically,” he said. “Clear and straight forward rules are extremely important.”

The Feb. 20 slide presentations are also available on the Henry County Planning Commission’s website (http://henryco.net/ PlanningCommUpcoming Cases.aspx), under the ‘Upcoming Cases’ link.

Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs told the planning commission one more group would like to speak at the March meeting. Jacobs suggested the next meeting might also be a good opportunity to allow public views or concerns to the planning commission regarding solar development in the area.

The Henry County Planning Commission agreed to accept public comments at their March 19 meeting at 5 p.m. in the county courthouse.

Jacobs has also been gathering solar ordinances from around the state for Henry County officials to look over while preparing to tackle the local ordinance.

“They sure have taken different approaches to how they do it,” planning commission president Ed Yanos said. “I thought there would be a lot of similarities, but they’re all over the board.”