‘Local Choice’ energy petition short of goal

A solar panel is shown in Meridian Township (Susan J. Demas/Michigan Advance photo)

A ballot initiative seeking to reverse clean energy siting policy that was approved by the Legislature last year has fallen short of the necessary signatures to make it onto the ballot this November.

Citizens for Local Choice needed to turn in 356,958 valid petition signatures to the Michigan Bureau of Elections by Wednesday at 5 p.m., but were unable to do so. However, the group says it is not giving up the effort.

“The Citizens for Local Choice ballot campaign has engaged thousands of volunteers across the state and has issued tens of thousands of petitions for signatures in an effort to restore local control of large-scale wind and solar operations,” the organization said in an emailed statement. “The campaign is strong and robust and while we have not reached the required signature threshold to make the 2024 ballot, we will continue our ambitious effort to leverage our legal 180-day window and work to secure a placement on the 2026 ballot.”

In Michigan, signatures submitted on a qualifying petition must have been collected within a 180-day period immediately preceding the date of filing. Signatures which are dated more than 180 days before the petition was filed are considered to be invalid.

The effort sought to repeal an impending law that gives the Michigan Public Service Commission authority over permitting for large scale solar wind and battery storage developments.

The change was made possible by passage of House Bill 5120, which is scheduled to take effect on Nov. 29. The bill’s sponsors have argued the changes it creates will help expand the build out of clean energy and would allow farmers who may have been blocked from leasing their land to energy developers, to secure additional income by hosting solar panels or wind turbines.

However, supporters of the Citizens for Local Choice initiative contend the new law will allow “corporations to supersede local control across our state for utility-scale wind and solar projects.” Organizations that publicly backed the effort included the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Association of Townships, Michigan Association of Counties, and Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan.

While critics say the bill removes control over large scale renewable energy projects from local governments, advocates have noted that it still requires energy companies to work with municipalities whose permitting process mirrors that of the state, giving the two parties 120 days to reach an agreement. They can also apply for an extension for another 120 days.

Electrical providers can submit a permitting application to the MPSC if the impacted community fails to approve or deny an application in a timely manner, if the local zoning process is stricter than the standards outlined in the bill, or if a project meets the standards outlined in the bill, but the application is denied.

One supporter of that change was Clara Ostrander of Milan Township in Monroe County, who owns and operates two Centennial farmsteads. Ostrander was a guest speaker last November at a bill signing event featuring Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Ostrander said renting the farm to another farmer for raising corn and soybeans, helped assist with paying the taxes, but it didn’t leave much more for helping with the maintenance on the rest of the farm.

“So when we were first approached about the idea of leasing our land for a large solar farm, we were very skeptical as we didn’t want to do anything to harm the farm,” she said. “But after several months of research, we learned that solar would not harm our land, but rather it would allow the land to rest while helping the environment by harvesting the sun for clean energy.”

However, Ostrander said the township’s interpretation of their solar ordinance prevented them from moving forward for two years, until ultimately the ordinance was amended to prevent her from leasing the land and “taking away our landowner rights.”

She said the bills allow small farmers like herself to now have the option to keep their family heritage and not have to resort to selling their land.

One of the groups that had opposed the initiative was the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, which welcomed the news that the issue would not be on the ballot this November. The council called the reforms “critical” and said they “will help avoid higher energy costs for the average Michigan household while creating jobs and making our economy more competitive.”

Also opposing the ballot initiative were the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America – Michigan Chapter, Evergreen Action, Michigan Environmental Council, Sierra Club, Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action, Vote Solar, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.


Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit. For more, go to https://michiganadvance.com/.


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