By David Fleet
Lansing — It’s been just over 13 years since the Atlas Township Planning Commission first established ordinances to maintain the rural character of the community as the drive for renewable energy ramped-up.
“In October 2010, Atlas Township developed and approved specific zoning ordinances governing wind energy conversion systems and the same in November 2018 governing small and large solar energy systems,” said Michael Rembor, Atlas Township planning commission chairperson.
“These ordinances were developed to address the township’s needs and are consistent with the Master Plan,” he said. “Local control should continue at the township level as the township understands community needs and the local impact of proposed projects.”
Those ordinances, enacted by Atlas Township officials and others similar statewide, may soon be overturned and in the hands of Lansing lawmakers.
A contentious clean energy bill package passed the Michigan House on Nov. 3, and the Senate on Nov. 8, which could encroach on local control in an effort to ensure renewable sources by 2040.
Area communities that established ordinances aimed at renewable solar and wind power facilities within their borders could face significant opposition by shifting permit decisions from local municipalities to state control. House Bills 5120 and 5123, would give the Michigan Public Service Commission the authority, not local governments, to allow new wind and solar farms in communities statewide. The Senate Bills passed are 271, 273, 502 and 277. The bills now move back to the House on Nov. 9 before Gov. Whitmer’s expected signature.
Decision-makers in Lansing are not as in tuned to local needs as are Atlas Township officials and citizens, added Rembor.
“The township has a planning commission, a zoning board of appeals and a professional planner are all in place to make knowledgeable decisions regarding the development of utility scale renewable energy facilities,” he said.
State Rep. David Martin (R-Davison) 68th District, which includes Atlas and Groveland townships along with the Village of Goodrich, voted against the plan over concerns the new mandate would burden families with expensive electricity bills and be less reliable.
“Our electric bills are skyrocketing, our power grid is crumbling, and these unrealistic mandates just add fuel to the fire,” said Rep. Martin, who also emphasized the loss of local zoning.
“The politicians in control right now see community input as an inconvenience, but I see it as a necessity in shaping responsible zoning policies. This plan fails to recognize the importance of involving local people in decisions that directly impact their lives.”
State Rep. Jasper Martus (D-Flushing) 69th District which includes Clayton, Flint, Mt. Morris, and parts of Montrose and Vienna townships along with the cities of Clio, Swartz Creek and Mt. Morris was a local sponsor of the House Bills. As of press time he did not respond.
Bill sponsor, Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) called the measures set out in the House as ambitious and innovative to deliver clean energy.
“This legislation streamlines the process so that landowners are free to use their land to produce clean energy as an additional source of revenue, should they so choose,” he said, in a statement to the press. “This will make Michigan a clean energy leader, wean us off fossil fuels and provide tremendous benefits to local communities.”
State Senator Ruth Johnson, R-24th District representing Atlas, Brandon and Groveland townships along with the Goodrich and Ortonville opposed the legislation.
“I voted no on these bills because they strip away local control,” said Sen. Johnson, a Groveland Township resident. “The governor’s energy plan could see 260,000 acres of land in our state used for solar panels and if she signs these bills local residents will have no say in how and where they are placed. We heard from many local officials opposing these bills because it is simply not fair that communities will have no say in where solar panels can be placed. That is just not acceptable to me.”
On Nov. 8 Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) released a statement after the Senate vote on Wednesday.
“With passage of these game-changing bills, Michigan will become a national leader on clean energy,” said Whitmer. “These bills will help us make more clean, reliable energy right here in Michigan, creating tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, and lowering utility costs for every Michigander by an average of $145 a year. I am grateful for the commonsense amendments that ensure local communities can work with utilities on developing clean energy sites.”
In 2008, the Michigan legislature passed and then Governor Jennifer Granholm signed Public Act 295 that required utilities in the state to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2015. Then at the end of 2016 new legislation was enacted that raised the bar to 15 percent by 2021.
Locally, DTE Energy along with other utilities are moving forward with renewable energy programs.
The Lapeer Solar Park, near I-69 and M-24 went fully operational in December 2017 producing power to 11,000 homes. The 200,000-panel array is located on about 250 acres and is one of the largest utility-owned solar parks east of the Mississippi River. DTE broke ground on the project in the spring of 2016.
“We are estimating a 25–30-year life span for Lapeer Solar,” said Lauren Owings, DTE, communications strategist during an interview with The Citizen last week.
“Once decommissioned, the solar panels may be used elsewhere since other operators don’t require the same level of output that we do. Otherwise, we’re seeing an increase in options for recycling solar panels.”
Though there are a few different types of panels, they’re usually manufactured from silicon, aluminum, and glass. When separated and processed correctly, these components can be recycled and sold to PV manufacturers, she said.
“DTE does not have specific project plans in Genesee, Lapeer or Oakland counties; however, we are constantly evaluating areas throughout the state for renewable energy development opportunities,” said Owings.
However, added Owings, DTE is committed to increasing its renewable energy capacity, exceeding the state’s 15% standard and beyond.
“By 2032, the company aims to add 5,400 MW of solar and wind energy, which is enough to power 1.5 million homes,” she said. “The company also has a long-term plan of developing another 10,000 MW of renewable sources from 2033 to 2042.”
The communities that host DTE’s wind and solar parks receive significant benefits in the form of local tax revenue and job creation, said Owings.
“DTE strives to extend that positive impact by supporting the needs of each community, helping them thrive by volunteering, sponsoring local events, and collaborating wherever we can,” she said. “We view our presence in these communities as a partnership and are committed to being a good and involved neighbor.”
By David Fleet