CHARLOTTE, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Over the multiple objections of individuals, local government groups and other organizations like the Michigan Chamber, the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Townships Association, the Democratic legislature nevertheless voted to push through a bill package giving the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), a three-member body whose members are appointed by the governor, control over large wind, solar and energy storage proposals in the state instead of localities.
Although the legislation requires developers to initiate their work with local officials and make payment to local governments, the MPSC is given the power to overrule a local government that says no to a development.
In an effort to meet their clean energy mandates, the Democrats in Michigan got tired of local community pushback against their clean energy policies and community rejection of solar fields and wind farms.
Instead of having to deal with more than 1,800 jurisdictions (townships, counties, cities) that have clean energy ordinances in the state, the Democrats decided that allowing the MPSC to control things would make future green energy plans more expedient and consistent for site approval and other critical decisions.
Dan Scripps, chairman of the MPSC, had told a Senate Energy and Environment Committee in November that the new legislation was needed so that the state could meet their accelerated clean and renewable energy targets of Michigan running on 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2040.
The MPSC estimates that about 17,000 Michigan acres are currently used for wind and solar projects – but Scripps told the Senate Energy and Environment Committee that close to 210,000 more acres could be needed to meet the new goals.
However, regardless of Democratic excitement to push through their clean energy agenda, many communities in Michigan are upset about this takeover of local communities.
The Lansing Journal (LSJ) reports that for six months, Val Vail-Shirey and 18 others had been meeting regularly to look in detail at how to carefully craft rules so Clinton County officials could restrict, but not forbid, wind and solar developments. Their efforts were just about finished when the state legislators came along with their own rules, which would bypass planning commissions in Clinton county – as they would in every other county in the state.
Nevertheless, Clinton county is moving ahead with their plans to update their wind and solar planning guidelines. Vail-Shirey, a Republican county commissioner from Bath said, “We were at it long before the (state) bills were introduced. I don’t think the state should usurp local government decisions.”
The county’s updated rules, not surprisingly, would be more restrictive than the state. The county committee’s recommendations include calling for solar sites to be 300 feet away from a property that isn’t part of the project (state rules are 50 feet) and would ban shadow flicker from wind turbines casting shadows on non-participating property (the state allows for 30 hours of flicker a year).
The LSJ reports that most of the county committee, 11 of the 19 members, come from townships that use the county’s planning and zoning committees and those members generally support tougher restrictions on wind and solar projects.
Because the state rules won’t kick in for a year after they become law, Laura Genovich, an attorney for Clinton county, says that wind and solar companies who want to locate in the county before 2025 could still try to get approval in 2024 under Clinton County’s rules – and use the state and federal incentives for green energy to do so before the dollars are spent by others in the state.
State Sen. Roger Hauck, a Mount Pleasant Republican whose district includes Essex and Lebanon townships in Clinton County, had previously said in a statement about the MPSC taking over control of wind and solar projects, “A majority of the lawmakers who rammed this through the legislature will never see solar farms or wind turbines in their community. That’s just a fact. It will be communities in my district and other rural areas that will bear the brunt of these mandates.”
Uncertainty abounds concerning current projects in process and existing local ordinances already in place. Jenn Fieldler, communications director for the Michigan Townships Association, says, “We know there are questions and uncertainty and, frankly, anger from local officials and their residents…who feel that this legislation takes away their ability to have a real say over what happens in their communities.”
December 14th is the date for the public hearing for the Clinton county planning commission changes and then the full county board is expected to vote on the issue in January.