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Solar, and wind project siting bills move out of Senate

Zbynek Burival

Legislation passed in the Michigan Senate Wednesday would give state regulators final say in approving wind and solar projects.

It’s in response to pushback and ordinances on behalf of local governments against allowing zoning for renewable energy projects.

Critics of building out that infrastructure, especially in rural areas, say it can hurt the landscape, bring nuisance hums, and take farmland out of agriculture production.

During a Senate Energy and Environment Committee hearing Tuesday, Michigan Public Service Commission chair Dan Scripps said local resistance could hinder Michigan’s clean energy future.

“There’s no question in my mind, that if we allowed local governments essentially veto power over all energy infrastructure, we would not build the critical energy infrastructure that we need,” Scripps said.

Scripps emphasized the MPSC already has the power to pre-empt local governments when it comes to other types of energy infrastructure projects, like pipelines.

The legislation changed multiple times since first being introduced in the state House of Representatives.

One major change would require electric companies and power providers to work with local governments first before turning to state regulators.

That process includes holding a public meeting in each affected locality, offering in writing to meet with local elected leaders to discuss the plan, and applying with local governments.

Those local units would then have 120 days to evaluate an application, with the option of extending that out another 120 days if both the applicant and local government agree.

If the local government doesn’t act within that time frame, has an ordinance that goes beyond state regulations, or denies a project that complies with state requirements, a project could then go through the Michigan Public Service Commission for permitting.

Aside from that, applicants would have to pay affected local governments up to $75,000 each, with a total up to $150,000.

Senator John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) says local governments wouldn’t have any meaningful way of blocking a project. Speaking from the Senate floor Wednesday, he said their involvement was just for show.

“This type of community involvement is pretend. We’re passing a law here that strips any reasonable local control over new facilities, that can dramatically change communities for generations to come, and yet we’ve put in enough window dressing to make some of us feel better about what’s happening,” Damoose said.

The legislation received heavy pushback from Republicans, who said the package would ultimately come at the expense of rural areas in the state where solar and wind projects are likely to be sited.

“These bill[s] would strip away that local control and give it to unelected bureaucrats. Who are these bureaucrats to decide what’s good for our local communities,” Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lum) said during a floor speech.

But supporters of the bill argue the legislation would not force any projects upon anyone. They argue the bills would only allow infrastructure to be built on property where landowners welcome it.

Senator Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) chairs the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

“Not only did this legislation benefit from lengthy and extensive feedback from local officials, energy stakeholders, voters, and the general public, but also key was hearing from the farmers and landowners who want this legislation, who want the freedom to decide what to do with their land,” McCann said.

Throughout the committee process, the policy faced backlash from organizations representing local governments and business interests.

The legislation is part of a broader energy package Michigan legislative Democrats have been trying to get to the governor before an expected adjournment of the legislative session this month.

Other bills already heading to her desk would set a clean energy standard by 2040.

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.