A package of Michigan House bills introduced Tuesday would circumvent local governments regarding the siting of solar and wind farms. If passed, the authority to approve local planning and zoning for wind and solar farms would be granted exclusively to the Michigan Public Service Commission.
Critics of the proposed legislation, 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.
In written testimony, Lenawee County Commissioner Kevin Martis expressed his opposition to the bills before a House committee, saying the proposed legislation “interferes with county and township ability to regulate utility scale renewable energy installations.”
Martis also spoke on behalf of Our Home Our Voice, a bipartisan statewide coalition with active supporters in at least 45 counties.
“For the past 14 years, I have been deeply involved in the always-contentious issue of siting wind and solar developments in rural areas. I have volunteered my time to help both local governmental entities and citizens alike work through the various issues surrounding these installations and over time, I have traveled to 10 states across the West and Midwest, and to that end, I believe I share a perspective that few have.”
Martis noted that Ohio and Wisconsin have enacted state-level siting and have witnessed less solar and wind development than Michigan with local control.
“Michigan has nearly twice the installed wind capacity as Wisconsin and Ohio combined,” Martis wrote. “And Michigan has roughly identical installed solar capacity as those two states even with local control. The truth is that local control is not nearly the impediment to renewable energy development as the proponents of this legislation claim.”
Martis also dispelled what he calls the myth of environmentally responsible renewable energy developers.
“RE developers are corporations who have only a single allegiance and that is to their corporate bottom line,” he said. “They regularly run roughshod over legitimate environmental impacts. They ignore guidance from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and regularly attempt to site large-scale projects on environmentally sensitive places like the Michigamme Highlands and the Garden Peninsula and deny the existence of protected species like the Indiana Bat in southeastern Michigan. Wind turbines are the number one cause of death for bats in the U.S.,” he said.
Martis said the four bills will make the State Legislature, and by extension the MPSC, a statewide zoning board, but warns neither is equipped nor trained to be land use professionals.
“To be effective, zoning needs to be created by communities, not developers,” Martis said. “It needs to be designed by zoning professionals rather than corporations. It needs to take into consideration the unique attributes of each community rather than a one-size-fits-all, statewide approach. And it takes months of study and research to develop either a wind or solar or solar ordinance in isolation let alone a four-bill package that regulates wind, solar, and storage in one giant leap.”
In an email to The Midwesterner, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Director of Public Relations Holly Wetzel concurred with Martis’ assessments. She added the bills would also yield a political advantage for Democrats and financial advantage for labor unions.
“Once again, lawmakers in Lansing are attempting to give special treatment to favored green energy sources,” Wetzel wrote. “But this time, the ineffective wind and solar industries aren’t the only special interests getting shown some extra love. This bill would also ensure that labor unions directly benefit from the government-mandated green energy expansion.”
Rep. Phil Skaggs, D-East Grand Rapids, sponsors HB 5122.
“More and more states are adopting renewable energy standards, and that means competition for site selection and job creation will be fierce,” Skaggs said in a statement.
“Michigan needs to act quickly and decisively, giving the MPSC the authority it needs to approve large-scale renewable energy projects to create jobs here in Michigan and meet our renewable goals,” Skaggs continued.
House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, sponsors HB 5120.
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“From day one, I’ve made it a priority to fight for environmental and economic justice, both for my constituents and folks across the state of Michigan. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in leading on this issue and receiving the governor’s support,” Aiyash said in a statement.
“Our legislation will create a standard for renewable energy siting and job creation and will ensure that low-income communities and communities of color are not forgotten when utilities are ramping up their energy efficiency programs. When we work from the bottom up, everyone benefits.”