Rep. Joey Andrews, D-St. Joseph, and his sister Nealie Andrews are facing scrutiny after the legislator voted in favor of a bill package that would grant authority for siting solar and wind farms to the unelected members of the Michigan Public Service Commission rather than local planning commissions.
Andrews is part owner of Parasol Solar in Niles, and Nealie Andrews is a lobbyist for several renewable energy companies. The representative is majority vice chair on the House Energy, Communications and Technology Committee. According to reporting by the Detroit News, Nealie Andrews has communicated with members of the committee on behalf of her renewable energy clients.
Michigan Information & Research Services broke the story on Thursday. Andrews claims Parasol – a company he formed in 2015 – is currently inactive.
Kevon Martis is a spokesman for Our Home Our Voice LLC, a statewide bipartisan nonprofit committed to preserving local control of land uses, including wind, solar, battery storage, aggregate extraction, and short-term rentals.
“I cannot verify whether Rep Andrews solar company is active or inactive,” Martis told The Midwesterner.
Martis testified before the Energy Committee on Wednesday in opposition to House Bills 5120, 5121, 5122, and 5123. If passed into law, the bills will wrest local zoning and planning control from township planning commissions, and prevent them from blocking or delaying approvals for renewable energy farms.
“The bills Rep. Andrews voted for deal with solar projects the size his firm was or is likely involved with, those under 50 megawatts,” Martis said. “I am sure Rep. Andrews is committed to clean government, and there is no shame in recusal. Doing so would show he is serious about putting people first.”
Andrews released a statement on Thursday without addressing the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“The issue of how and where to locate new renewable energy projects, especially those at utility scale, brings out a lot of passion about local control and personal property rights,” he said. “I was proud to introduce an amendment, which was adopted with bipartisan support, to expressly forbid the use of eminent domain for solar or wind projects.”
He continued: “Michigan’s transition to clean energy is inevitable, and we have to act quickly to protect our environment, strengthen our electric grid, and create the sustainable, good-paying union jobs that will bring these projects to fruition. I will continue to monitor these bills as they move forward, and I am committed to finding a solution to our energy needs that honors local control.”
The representative, however, told the Detroit News on Thursday: “It’s not a conflict if I don’t benefit.”