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Neighbors blast proposed Washtenaw County solar farm as eyesore

The Ann Arbor News|Lucas Smolcic Larson |April 22, 2022
MichiganImpact on LandscapeImpact on PeoplePhotovoltaic Solar

[M]any neighbors said they didn’t appreciate the panels taking over the view from their porches. Developers currently plan to surround the project with a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and screen portions of the property with newly-planted trees. Neighbors urged them to go further, pointing out how long the tree growth would take and noting a lack of screening along Herman Road, and other areas. “If you put fences on both sides of that road, I’m going to be driving down looking like I’m going to a prison,” said resident Pamela Wiseman.


WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – Right project, wrong place.

That was the message echoed by several neighbors of a proposed 159-acre solar farm in rural western Washtenaw County as they volleyed concerns at developers on Thursday, April 21.

Residents packed elbow-to-elbow in the meeting hall in Manchester Township, chairs spilling out into the hallway.

It was their chance to have a say in the proposed Thorn Lake Solar project, pitched by a Fortune 500 energy company for farmland hugging either side of Herman Road just east of where it meets Sharon Hollow Road.

Representatives of Arlington, Va.-based AES Corp. presented plans for the 20-megawatt, utility-scale photovoltaic array and invited feedback from its neighbors.

Read more: Proposed solar array could cover 160 acres of farmland in western Washtenaw County

Some blasted the plans for interfering with the atmosphere that brought them to the Manchester area, a rural community some 25 miles southwest of Ann Arbor.

“I moved to Manchester to get away from the city look, to get away from big buildings and ugliness, and that farmland is ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – Right project, wrong place.

That was the message echoed by several neighbors of a proposed 159-acre solar farm in rural western Washtenaw County as they volleyed concerns at developers on Thursday, April 21.

Residents packed elbow-to-elbow in the meeting hall in Manchester Township, chairs spilling out into the hallway.

It was their chance to have a say in the proposed Thorn Lake Solar project, pitched by a Fortune 500 energy company for farmland hugging either side of Herman Road just east of where it meets Sharon Hollow Road.

Representatives of Arlington, Va.-based AES Corp. presented plans for the 20-megawatt, utility-scale photovoltaic array and invited feedback from its neighbors.

Read more: Proposed solar array could cover 160 acres of farmland in western Washtenaw County

Some blasted the plans for interfering with the atmosphere that brought them to the Manchester area, a rural community some 25 miles southwest of Ann Arbor.

“I moved to Manchester to get away from the city look, to get away from big buildings and ugliness, and that farmland is peaceful and tranquil,” said project neighbor Carl Radcliff. “This doesn’t seem like the right fit for us.”

Others were more forceful.

“I don’t want to drive around that curve and see this garbage,” said Patricia Hansen, who said the agricultural land she lives on dates back to her great-grandfather.

The project would be an “eyesore,” added resident Dan Austad, who said he’d bought property nearby last year for its location in countryside and had regrets after finding out about the solar farm proposal.

Developers did their best to address questions and concerns, as well as boost the pros of the solar array, a source of green energy.

The panels would be installed on poles driven into the ground, with no concrete foundations, zero impact on wetlands and minimal effect on trees on the mostly-open lot, said AES Solar Development Manager Frank Krawczel.

The electricity generated would be sold to Consumers Energy, powering an equivalent of 3,500 homes annually with clean energy and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions equal to those of 6,100 cars driven for a year, he said.

The $30-million project, which would be decommissioned at the end of the company’s 35-year lease on the land, promises to bring roughly $5 million in tax dollars to Manchester Township and Washtenaw County during that time, Krawczel said.

That dwarfs the $400,000 in taxes collected if the panels weren’t placed there, and AES is accustomed to being the largest taxpayer in the communities it operates in, he said.

“We’re not flipping this project to someone else,” he promised, adding once construction is finished the solar farm would be a “quiet neighbor” maintained by just a four-person crew.

Lighting at the facility would be minimal, mostly motion-activated lights at entrances for staff, developers said to questions about possible light pollution.

Some residents peppered them with concerns over their property values, citing studies from Rhode Island and Massachusetts finding negative impact of similar solar arrays on home values.

“That really bothers me. I don’t want to make it any harder to sell my farm down the road,” said Allison McKenzie, a horse trainer who lives nearby.

Krawczel pointed out that the studies residents held up were based on two of the most densely populated states in the nation, claiming similar reports from Virginia and California – states with population density similar to Michigan – found no impact on property values. (The authors of a 2020 University of Rhode Island study cited at the meeting found the negative effects in rural areas were “effectively zero.”)

Even so, many neighbors said they didn’t appreciate the panels taking over the view from their porches. Developers currently plan to surround the project with a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and screen portions of the property with newly-planted trees.

Neighbors urged them to go further, pointing out how long the tree growth would take and noting a lack of screening along Herman Road, and other areas.

“If you put fences on both sides of that road, I’m going to be driving down looking like I’m going to a prison,” said resident Pamela Wiseman.

Developers are willing to look into a “more robust screen” along the property line, Krawczel said, noting the current plans meet the requirements of local ordinances.

The property will need to be served by some kind of broadband internet connection for the company’s monitoring, he said.

That prompted a question from Washtenaw County Commissioner Shannon Beeman, a Manchester resident, over how AES could collaborate with multi-million dollar county efforts to expand internet access in the area, where a reliable connection is often lacking.

Krawczel said he couldn’t guarantee the company could make more broadband service available to nearby residents but was open to collaboration and further talks with officials.

The Manchester Township Planning Commission, which hosted the public meeting, opted to take no action on Thursday, following the advice of township planning consultant John Enos that officials wait for any changes to the plans based on resident feedback and commitments in writing before moving forward.

AES is seeking a conditional use permit, and appears to meet the requirements of the township’s rules, Enos said. Still, he added he wouldn’t expect action until the commission’s June 2 meeting.

If the solar farm’s permit is OK’d, it will likely be without the stamp of approval of many of the neighbors who spoke on Thursday.

“I’m not anti-green, don’t get me wrong,” said Jeremy Rippey, who lives nearby. “This isn’t the place for it.”

Jeff Hansen, another resident, referenced the famous line from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” where Kevin Costner’s character creates a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield.

“If you build it they will come, that’s part of the movie. If you build this people are going to want to,” he said.

“Leave,” came the response from the room.

Content truncated due to possible copyright. Use source link for full article.


Source:https://www.mlive.com/news/an…

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