Democrats on the Michigan House of Representatives Energy, Communications, and Technology Committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill package that, if it becomes law, will allow unelected officials of the Michigan Public Services Commission to permit solar and wind farms in the state, circumventing local planning commissions.
Democrats on the committee voted to approve the four bills after nearly an hour of passionate testimony decrying the removal of local control over the siting of renewable energy farms and energy storage facilities.
House Bills 5120, 5121, 5122, and 5123, will wrest local zoning and planning control from township planning commissions, and prevent them from blocking or delaying approvals for renewable energy farms.
Mark Fosdick is the supervisor in Cohoctah Township in Livingston County.
“I’m opposed to this legislation because it takes away basically the local control,” he told the committee in Wednesday morning testimony. Among his state concerns was radio and television interference from wind turbines and solar panels. He also expressed concern over what could happen to structures should renewable energy companies declare bankruptcy.
“There has to be more teeth put into this legislation if it’s going to move forward the other issue is drainage. A lot of the farm fields are tiled drain,” he said.
“If the weight of renewable structures causes the tiles to break, it will cause flooding,” Fosdick warned.
“Finally I think you’re overburdening the rural communities to unfairly shoulder the renewable energy resources without more thought, [or] communication with local governments. You’ll be causing hard feelings, which will ultimately undermine all the energy goals that we’re trying to establish in this state.”
In her testimony before the committee, Deborah Hopkinson of White River Township in Muskegon County described herself as a lifelong Democrat who opposes the bill package.
“I’m here today speaking for a group of people you don’t normally hear from,” Hopkinson said. “Our community offers robust bipartisan support for renewable energy but also for protecting our community via maintaining local control. White River Township is a Lake Michigan coastal community with a beautiful mix of beaches, woodlands, and family farms of all sizes,” she said.
“We’re less than half the size of a typical Michigan Township and right now we’re locked in a battle for our community survival,” she continued. “Our Township board hired a professional zoning consultant to help them write a comprehensive zoning ordinance that would welcome renewables into our community, but a solar developer applied to build a 1,700-acre array in the dead center of our 10,000-acre community.”
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Hopkinson noted the array would cover roughly 50% of the township’s green space. She added that HB 5120-5123 don’t offer protections for Michigan communities.
“How will the MPSC make a determination of benefits to each community in the state?” she asked. “The rule on that is vague and there are no criteria for determining those benefits. Our Township already tried to get help from another state agency [Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy] to help us clean up a 1,300 acre toxic waste site left behind by DuPont Chemical. They failed us spectacularly, and we’re now working with the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency],” she said.
“Our township is a glaring example of irresponsible sighting of renewables,” Hopkinson continued.
Representatives from the Michigan Association of Counties also expressed their opposition to the bill package.
Governmental Affairs Associate Madeline Fata stated MAC’s stance was predicated on government overreach and loss of local control.
“We usually support sustainability we would just like to see legislation that more responsibly and intentionally and realistically incorporates what our communities have to offer,” she said.
All Republican efforts to add amendments to the bill package were rejected by the Democrat majority on the committee. Conversely, every amendment introduced by a Democrat was passed strictly along partisan lines.