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Commentary: Michigan Farm Bureau supports Citizens for Local Choice.

March 1, 2024

4 Min Read
Wind turbines and solar panels in a field
LOCAL CONTROL: Public Act 233 of 2023 effectively transferred zoning decisions from local control to the three-member Michigan Public Service Commission. Renewable energy developers are already operating outside of the townships, knowing they can proceed full speed once the statewide siting standards take effect in November. Philip Steury/Getty Images

by Carl Bednarski

Last November, Michigan citizens witnessed an unprecedented Lansing power grab when the Legislature passed House Bills 5120 and 5121 — legislation that removed zoning jurisdiction from local officials in siting decisions of utility-scale wind, solar and energy storage projects.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, became Public Act 233 of 2023, effectively transferred zoning decisions from local control to the three-member Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), who coincidentally are appointed by the governor.

Despite overwhelming opposition to the blatant legislative maneuvers, proponents viewed the “Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act” as the crown jewel to meeting Whitmer’s goal for Michigan to utilize 100% clean energy by 2040.

To put that into perspective, renewable energy accounted for 12% of Michigan's total in-state electricity generation in 2022, most of it from wind, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — with less than 1% generated by seven utility-scale solar farms that came online that year.

According to MPSC Chairman Dan Scripps, reaching the 2040 energy goal will require an estimated 209,000 additional acres of farmland for wind and solar generation to achieve even 60% of energy from renewable sources.

Even though the legislation doesn’t technically take effect until November, renewable energy developers are already operating outside of the townships, knowing full well they can proceed full speed once the statewide siting standards take effect.

Michigan Farm Bureau aggressively opposed the legislation last fall, with more than 2,100 members responding to an MFB action alert, sending more than 4,200 messages to lawmakers opposing the legislation.

MFB member-developed and approved policy has long supported the township government system and the belief that local elected officials are best positioned to evaluate renewable energy project locations while considering community variables in ways that state-level authorities cannot.

Last December, voting delegates reaffirmed that policy at MFB’s annual meeting, approving land-use policy that supports, “acknowledgement of the diversity and uniqueness of each community in our state. We believe that land-use decisions are best made by local communities, including planning and zoning decisions for energy siting and mega-site development. We oppose preemption of local zoning for these purposes.”

Based on that policy, Michigan Farm Bureau became the first organization to publicly support a ballot proposal launched by “Citizens for Local Choice.”

The volunteer-based, bipartisan coalition is seeking a ballot initiative to repeal Part 8 as added by Public Act 233 of 2023, which stripped away local control in siting large-scale utility projects.

Since then, the Michigan Townships Association has also voted to back the ballot initiative in their ongoing commitment to restore local authority for how Michigan communities choose to plan and zone for utility-scale renewable energy facilities.

In fact, a poll commissioned by MTA found more than 87% of Michigan citizens agree that permitting for utility-scale renewable energy should remain at the local level. The results were overwhelmingly bipartisan as well, with 85% of Democrats, 91% of Republicans and 84% of independents supporting local control.

The issue at hand is not about whether you support or oppose large-scale wind and solar projects. It’s about whether you support local control — and ultimately respect the local decision-making process and the rights of landowners.

In the pursuit of large-scale “clean energy” projects, it’s essential that Michigan strike a balanced and reasonable approach — one that respects a 186-year legacy of private property rights and township control.

A one-size-fits-all approach under MPSC will not serve the best interests of Michigan’s rural communities.

Since the Michigan Board of State Canvassers has approved language for the petition, the coalition has 180 days to collect a minimum of 356,958 valid signatures from registered Michigan voters. However, to be on the 2024 November ballot, those signatures would have to be submitted by May 29.

The Citizens for Local Choice website offers a wide range of available resources in support of the effort to put the power back in the hands of locally elected officials. In fact, MFB used those resources at a number of our county and state-level events, including our recent Young Farmer’s Leaders Conference and Lansing Legislative Seminar.

If this ballot initiative is not successful, we should all be asking ourselves, “What’s next?”

If state legislators and Whitmer can successfully dictate statewide zoning standards that allow developers to supersede local control for utility-scale wind and solar projects, it will be the equivalent of signing a blank check for future heavy-handed legislation in pursuit of political agendas.

As Farm Bureau members, I urge you to actively engage in this ballot initiative.

Through MFB’s statewide footprint, your involvement through signature gathering and local informational meetings will be instrumental in getting this initiative successfully placed on the November ballot.

Bednarski is president of Michigan Farm Bureau.

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