OVID TWP. — Residents packed the Ovid Township Hall on Tuesday night with questions for the planning commission about the 150-megawatt solar farms that spans 1,109 acres under lease in the township.
Developer Apex Clean Energy officially filed a 792-page application for a special-use permit to construct the massive solar farm, which also covers 571 acres in Coldwater Township.
Following the public hearing, the planning commission did not take action. The five members decided to answer as many questions as possible before its next special meeting on Oct. 11.
Asked why the township couldn't band solar farms, chairman Andy AcMoody said, "We're required by state law to allow them because we are a zoned community. What we can do is set stipulations on setbacks and what district it is located in."
Ovid Township established them in agriculture districts. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development sent the township a letter along with one from the governor's office "stipulates this type of solar farm is an ag-related thing, a related industry within agriculture. So all of this ground can still continue to be in PA 116 because they figured it's a farming project."
Apex and three landowners will meet with township zoning administrator Matt Ashenfelter to determine the proper setbacks for parcels enclosed on three sides by leased solar land. Setbacks range from 50 to 1,000 feet in the ordinance adopted after 16 months of work by the planning commission and township board.
Asked to increase setbacks, AcMoody said that would mean it would increase the project's overall size to fit in the planned 150 MW of solar cells.
Attorney Joe Haas warned the commission and public to make any substantial changes now risked legal challenges because Apex relied on the passed law.
The township approved a new master plan which limits solar farm use. Approval of the Apex project "would max out solar acreage allowed," AcMoody said.
Residents were told once the special use permit is issued, the company would have two years to begin construction or must reapply.
One resident said she saw reports that rain runoff would cause groundwater contamination. She wanted assurance that it would not happen.
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Richard Doud wants higher cells and special wildlife grasses underneath to reduce mowing and allow wildlife to flourish inside the farms' fences.
Others feared a loss of land value from adjacent solar farms and wanted assurances someone would compensate for the loss.
There are stormwater basins around the project. Residents requested a presentation of the design to assure they were safe and more "than just a hole in the ground."
Commissioner Sean Grove suggested the questions needed answering before a commission vote on the special use permit.
With 60% in Ovid Township and 40% in Coldwater Township, its 150-megawatt project has 945 fenced acres.Apex hopes to be under construction next year, with operations beginning in 2024.
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