IONIA, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – There was standing room only in Ionia County at Keene Township’s monthly meeting featuring several items on the agenda including a nearly two hour public comment section about the town’s possible solar expansion.
Nearly 50 attendees, including advocates on both sides of the industrial solar expansion debate crowded into the meeting to share their worries about the future which would include an ordinance that could be more favorable to more solar and wind energy growth in the area.
According to the Keene Township Supervisor, Robert Simpson, the current six month moratorium on building projects for the energy company Invenergy based in Illinois, is set to expire in March, which prompted two separate suggestions from the audience to extend the moratorium. One woman suggested that the solar panels would actually raise the temperature of the area around them like the sun reflecting on asphalt rather than the sun shining on a field. She then asked the moratorium be extended until August of 2023 or until after the planning committee could experience the panels on a hot summer day for themselves.
“So that our planning board can actually go to one [a 100 megawatt Solar Facility] and see what it’s actually like before making a decision about the setback,” a commenter said.
Christine Hendricks, founder of a group opposing solar expansion, Protect Keene, brought a tri-fold board showing what she said contained an up to date map of 3,000 acres of land in the township that Invenergy had already signed individual agreements to lease land for industrial solar paneling spoke about the impact and division the company was causing.
“These companies have a playbook, and they played their hand well here in Keene Township,” Hendricks said, “They’ve got us fighting, they’ve got us against our neighbors and our friends – people we have known forever – and they’re gonna be gone as soon as they start driving the trucks in; the sales guys are gone. We’re gonna all be left picking up the pieces of this mess.”
She continued, “We’re not the enemies. Our neighbors are not the enemies. Invenergy is the enemy.”
Keene Township Board Trustee and Member of the Planning Commission Corey Wojcik commented about the board’s favorable relationship with the solar company that also builds sustainable solutions in wind, storage, natural gas, and clean water according to Invenergy.
“That’s not true, I am on both boards, and I take into consideration a hundred percent both sides, and I feel attacked by one side primarily; it’s only been a few individuals on that one side,” Wojcik said, “I want you to know that I am non-bias and I know a lot of the other board members feel the same way and the majority of the planning commission and the board are non-bias and take into consideration one hundred percent both sides.”
Despite a majority of comments against the solar projects, one attendee of the meeting stood in defense of her family’s decision to lease land, and also responded to the criticism that solar would end farming on the land.
“We’re not planning on not farming, we’ve got two young boys, 15 and 11, all they want to do is farm,” Kate Hardy said, “I’m not gonna say that we’re not trying to have a better living for ourselves, but we’re not gonna stop farming.”
This was the first time that she had spoken at a meeting, though she attends all of the township meetings according to Hardy.
“There’s been a lot of things said about us, and we sit here at these meetings very quietly,” she said, “I understand where you’re coming from – I totally get it – maybe you understand where we’re coming from, maybe you don’t.”
A representative from Invenergy was present at the meeting, and was emailed for comment. He said he is putting together answers but not by press time. Michigan News Source will follow up. To date Invenergy has completed projects in Gratiot, Gratiot County II, Isabella counties. It is currently building solar energy in Calhoun county.
The planning commission which is helping to update the township’s ordinance plans to meet again on Feb. 7 and allows the public to attend for comment.
The next Keene Township meeting will be held on Feb. 14.