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Health, clean energy and environmental advocates oppose ballot initiative eliminating siting law


Health, clean energy and environmental advocates oppose ballot initiative eliminating siting law

Feb 26, 2024 | 10:59 am ET
By Kyle Davidson
Health, clean energy and environmental advocates oppose ballot initiative eliminating siting law
Solar panels in Delta Township | Susan J. Demas

A broad group of clean energy, health and environmental advocacy organizations has voiced opposition to a ballot initiative seeking to reverse clean energy siting policy approved by the Legislature in November. 

House Bill 5120, which will take effect on Nov. 29, gives the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) authority over permitting for large scale solar wind and battery storage developments. 

While the bill’s sponsors argued these changes would 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. 

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However, supporters of the Citizens for Local Choice initiative argue this new law strips away power from localities, which previously held the sole permitting authority over renewable energy development. 

According to Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, 26 localities within the state had policies blocking or restricting renewable energy developments. 

“Helping Michigan farmers secure a steady source of second income by leasing their less productive land is what the clean energy law will do,” John Freeman, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association said in a statement. 

“Moving to clean, renewable energy helps diversify our energy grid to improve reliability. We urge voters not to sign this ballot petition as it will take our state backwards,” Freeman said. 

As Michigan continues to rank among the worst states in the nation for energy reliability with the 9th highest energy rate in the nation for residential customers, clean energy advocates have touted sources like wind and solar as cheaper alternatives to coal and natural gas. 

“A single acre of solar power can electrify 80 homes, and in 90 minutes, an average wind turbine can power a home for a month,” Laura Sherman, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council said in a statement. 

“The clean energy law streamlines the process and cuts red tape to help these clean renewable energy projects generate tax revenue for local communities, while maintaining input from the residents and elected officials of those communities. Michigan voters need to know this ballot initiative is misleading and not to sign the petition,” Sherman said. 

Under the new law, energy developers would be required to participate in the permitting process at the local level, provided the locality’s permitting process matches the state’s with standards no stricter than those outlined in the law. The parties would have 120 days to reach an agreement with the option for a 120-day extension. 

Alongside the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association and the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council,  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 also opposed the ballot initiative. 

Health, clean energy and environmental advocates oppose ballot initiative eliminating siting law
State Rep. David Prestin (R-Cedar River) speaks against clean energy expansion legislation on Nov. 2, 2023. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

However, the initiative has drawn support from the Michigan Farm Bureau and multiple Republican lawmakers. Republicans vigorously opposed the siting changes in the Legislature, with the effort ultimately passing along party lines. 

“Zoning is, and should remain, a local issue. Local governments know their communities better than any unelected Lansing bureaucrat, and they especially know better than the three members of the Michigan Public Service Commission,” state Rep. David Prestin (R-Cedar River) said in a statement.

In addition to the three commissioners appointed by the Governor, there are also nine divisions of staffers specialized in engineering, law, economics, finance, accounting, and technical and administrative support.

In order for the initiative to appear on the November ballot, the effort must submit 356,958 valid signatures to the Michigan secretary of state by May 29.