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Ballot push to keep wind, solar projects approval local reaches St. Clair County

Port Huron Times Herald|Jackie Smith|February 8, 2024
MichiganZoning/Planning

Michigan legislators OK’d bills targeting energy policies late last year with a procedural change that state Democrats said aimed to streamline permitting for utility-scale wind and solar projects. They also require electric providers to achieve a 100% clean energy portfolio by 2040. Backed by the Citizens for Local Choice ballot committee, the state board of canvassers OK’d language for the proposed ballot measure on Jan. 19 to reverse last year’s requirements empowering the MPSC.  More specifically, it would repeal part 8 of the amended Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act, added by legislators via Public Act 233 of 2023.


It wasn’t too long ago when resident Sandra Tannehill joked she lived happily in a bubble at her rural Wales Township home.

She didn’t follow much with local government. She didn’t attend meetings in other communities. And she definitely didn’t travel to Lansing to speak before lawmakers in committee.

Over the last year, however, she’s done all three — more recently joining Wales’ planning commission and becoming enmeshed in discussions about the impacts of wind and solar developments.

Now, in the wake of a new state statute that gives the Michigan Public Service Commission the final say in siting large renewable energy projects, Tannehill said she’s among a host of residents joining the rush to get a statewide ballot measure before …

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It wasn’t too long ago when resident Sandra Tannehill joked she lived happily in a bubble at her rural Wales Township home.

She didn’t follow much with local government. She didn’t attend meetings in other communities. And she definitely didn’t travel to Lansing to speak before lawmakers in committee.

Over the last year, however, she’s done all three — more recently joining Wales’ planning commission and becoming enmeshed in discussions about the impacts of wind and solar developments.

Now, in the wake of a new state statute that gives the Michigan Public Service Commission the final say in siting large renewable energy projects, Tannehill said she’s among a host of residents joining the rush to get a statewide ballot measure before voters later this year in favor of local control.

“I want to make sure that people know that this petition was approved, and there’ll be petition holders wanting or asking for signatures to get this on the ballot in November. It’s very time-crunched,” Tannehill said. “I would like to stay in my bubble. But unfortunately, you have to put forth some type of effort if you believe something is going wrong.”

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Michigan legislators OK’d bills targeting energy policies late last year with a procedural change that state Democrats said aimed to streamline permitting for utility-scale wind and solar projects.

They also require electric providers to achieve a 100% clean energy portfolio by 2040.

Backed by the Citizens for Local Choice ballot committee, the state board of canvassers OK’d language for the proposed ballot measure on Jan. 19 to reverse last year’s requirements empowering the MPSC.  More specifically, it would repeal part 8 of the amended Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act, added by legislators via Public Act 233 of 2023.

Although local governments retain some involvement in the original legislation, proponents of the ballot proposal said the pre-emptive control stymies local leaders’ ability to represent the will of their communities — whether they support renewable energy or not.

“It’s the division of government, whether it’s local, county or state, and recognizing the authority that citizens should have over their own community,” said Liz Masters, supervisor in Wales. The township has had a moratorium on wind, solar, and battery facilities for over a year originally established to give township officials time to consider a local ordinance.

Outside wind and solar, Masters and other officials said they feared the new state rules would also be a slippery slope to losing local control over other issues.

“I’m definitely alerted and very worried and very concerned that this could just be the tip of an iceberg,” Masters said. “When it does come into, let’s say, local short-term rentals or aggregate (business), definitely a local community should be able to plan responsibly for anything that could be coming down the wire.

“The good comparison, I heard this before, is if a community such as Ann Arbor wants to ban plastic bags or gas stoves. Well, that community should be able to have that right and be able to reflect how their citizens feel through their elected officials and not have the (potential for) the state (to) override. It doesn’t matter where you sit with solar, wind, or battery storage. It’s just what could be in the future, what type of local rights could the state potentially be taking from a community.”

What does the ballot petition require? Who's involved?
On Jan. 22, several dozen residents watched on for an hour and a half in a church in midtown Port Huron as organizers and supporters for Citizens for Local Choice broke down concerns about the state’s push to bolster renewable energy developments.

The meeting was hosted by Hope Rising, a local 501c4 group co-founded by former state representative and lieutenant governor candidate Shane Hernandez, with visiting speakers that included Jason Hayes, director of energy and environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and ballot committee member Norm Stephens.

Kevon Martis, of Our Home, Our Voice, told the audience official petitions for the ballot measure were being printed that week.

Petitions are available for circulation, and, according to a news release, they were required to get 356,958 valid signatures from registered voters in 180 days.

Martis, also a Lenawee County commissioner and zoning administrator to Deerfield Township, said their bigger goal was for 550,000 to leave room for error ahead of the May deadline, which he admitted meant the “clock is much tighter.” They also aimed to raise $7 million to $10 million to help collect signatures and counter any legal challenges.

“If everybody helps,” Martis said, “we can get this done.”

As is, under state rules, local ordinances can’t be more restrictive than what legislators passed, and energy developers are required to go to local governments first. Once an applicant to the MPSC, PA 233 prescribes one-time grants to affected communities at up to $75,000 each or $150,000 in total, as well as $2,000 per megawatt of nameplate capacity within each affected area for public safety and other infrastructure projects as agreed upon in a host community agreement.

One bill author said in a statement last November such mechanisms were meant to ensure local voices were heard.

“But the law makes it clear if your township’s ordinance doesn’t coincide with the state’s and the developer comes with a plan that meets the state’s guidelines, the state must approve,” Martis said.

The approved petition language asks to repeal statewide requirements for the construction and development of energy facilities, including:

Assessment of environmental, natural resources, and farmland impact
Wages and benefits requirements for workers
Setback distance
Size and height of structures
Amount of light
Sound emitted
To learn more or request petitions, visit www.micitizenschoice.org. Walt Caughel was the listed captain for St. Clair County for Citizens for Local Choice.

Like Tannehill, plenty of others said they planned to get involved. Local Choice updates have been shared widely on anti-wind and solar Facebook pages, and Masters said she hoped to see signature-collecting efforts at popular events like Earth Day festivities this spring.

Kimball Township Supervisor Rob Usakowski said he’d already heard from interested signatories even though support of renewable energy in the township may be relatively split.

“We just did our master plan update, so we asked about renewable energy. … About half the respondents were supportive of renewable energy and half of them weren’t interested in it. Now what that exactly means in detail, we didn’t dive any deeper,” he said. “We’re hoping that the MTA (Michigan Township Association) comes out maybe with a model ordinance or something like that, so that we can all adopt the same thing.”

Fight for local control is bipartisan, organizers say
Organizers emphasized the goal with Citizens for Local Choice wasn’t Republican or Democrat, touting polls alleged to put opposition against PA 233 in the majority on both sides of the aisle.

“We have four counties, Huron County, Tuscola County, Sanilac County, and Isabella County, that host wind turbines, and the county commissioners love that money. But yet, they still passed resolutions against this bill,” Norm Stephens, a Citizens for Local Choice committee member, said on Jan. 22. “Why would do that even though they love the money that comes in? Because they know it was wrong.”

Masters, a Democrat official in a mostly GOP county, agreed.

In a separate interview last month, Hernandez said the zoning issue was “probably a bigger deal in the Thumb than it is in a lot of places,” and he recalled following concerns raised in Wales Township and later Fort Gratiot, where township planning commissioners rejected a large-scale solar development last fall that’s now before the St. Clair County Circuit Court on appeal.

In general, area residents voiced concerns about potential noise, environmental impacts, and disruption to the quality of life in areas dominated by agricultural land. And organizers said the state’s policy push seemed to arise at a time when renewable energy proposals only continued to grow in scale.

When asked, Hernandez added he thought wind and solar shouldn’t be subsided, nor mandated.

But none of that, he said, was why Hope Rising took the ballot petition on for attendees.

“We’re very intentionally not the Republican Party, and we want to be able to work with people who don’t agree with us all the time on issues we can agree on. I think this is a bi-partisan issue,” Hernandez said. “There’s probably people (in that discussion) that don’t agree on the future of how we address energy going forward, but we do agree zoning needs to be local.”

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com.


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Source:https://www.thetimesherald.co…

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