LANSING – With minimal debate and no bipartisan support, Michigan Senate democrats passed a series of new bills that overrides longstanding control over zoning and land use by local townships and counties and gives it to the three person panel on the Michigan Public Service Commission.
These bills prevent townships and counties from preventing the development of new solar and wind farms throughout the state and set targets for how much of the state’s total electricity use should come from wind and solar of up to 60% by 2035. Senate republicans tried to amend the bills so local municipalities could retain control and so that the targets could include nuclear power, not just solar and wind. Democrats rejected both amendments.
One thing both sides agreed on: this is a crossroads for Michigan.
“This is a critical component of achieving our clean-energy goals,” said Senate Majority Leader, Winnie Banks, D- Grand Rapids.
Rebublicans, farmers, and local townships and counties are deeply concerned about the loss of local control. “I trust township and city officials, who are much closer to their constituents than we are in Lansing, to know what is right for their communities,” said Senator Kevin Daley, R- Lapeer in a statement to the Tribune. “By dismantling local control, this legislation relinquishes decision-making power to unelected bureaucrats.”
The legislation sets financial incentives for converting farmland to production of electricity from solar and wind power and provides no recourse for neighbors and other residents who don’t want the visual and audible pollution of massive solar and wind farms marring their rural landscape.
Democrats argued that the bills will protect property rights by ensuring neighbors can’t block a farmer who wants to use his land for solar and wind development.
Many townships throughout Michigan, including in Lapeer County have passed or have considered local ordinances limiting or preventing solar and wind farm development altogether. This new legislation, once signed into law by the governor, will override those ordinances.
Rebublicans are also concerned about the overall economic and environmental impact of these bills, which they argue have not been adequately studied or considered. Dan Scripps, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission, testified to the Senate that Michigan will likely need about 209,000 additional acres of land for solar and wind power generation to achieve the 60% target by 2035. It is unknown whether this estimate includes significant increase in electricity consumption that would result from meeting democrats’ goals for electric vehicle adoption.
Senator Daley continued in his statement to the Tribune, “Not only does this compromise the autonomy of township and city officials, but it also sets the stage for a potential economic crisis. The shift from fertile farmland to solar and wind energy infrastructure not only jeopardizes our states agricultural prowess but also carries the grave consequence of escalating prices for essential goods, including food and energy. Sacrificing the natural beauty and agricultural productivity of our state for this radical endeavor is nothing short of a tragedy.”
Democrats, however, celebrated the move. “People want to know that they can start a family, career, or business in a state that will provide them with strong economic opportunities and fight for their children’s future,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said. “Today we are protecting everything we know and love about pure Michigan.”