Senate committee advances bill allowing farmers to rent land for solar arrays
Members of the Michigan Senate Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday voted to advance legislation that would allow farmers to rent out their land for solar energy generation while still participating in the state’s farmland and open space preservation program.
Senate Bill 277, introduced by state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), would bring a 2019 Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) policy into state law, allowing farmland to host solar energy arrays without losing heritage land protections, which include tax incentives.
Farmers with solar panels on their land would not receive tax breaks on the land while renting out for solar energy programs, deferring the credits until the land owner no longer wants to rent the property. Farmers who leave the preservation program completely must repay the last seven years of tax credits granted through the agreement.
“At the end of the day, for me, this comes down to personal property rights, as a farmer has the option to host solar without having to withdraw from the [farmland and open space preservation] agreement,” McDonald Rivet said.
McDonald Rivet also addressed concerns that this program would result in farmland being replaced by solar energy fixtures, noting that there are currently over 42,000 active agreements taking up 3.1 million acres, less than .1% farmland in the state.
This would also allow individuals who inherited farmland, but who have no interest in farming, to make use of their land, McDonald Rivet said. There are also protections to ensure that when landowners no longer want solar on their properties, and the arrays are removed, the land can be farmed once again by the following growing season.
Ed Rivet from the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum testified in favor of the bill, noting that the policy has been very successful in the four years since it was put in place by MDARD. He also noted that diversifying land use has been critical to some farmers’ long-term survival.
“I spoke to a gentleman who was well in his 70s, fourth-generation farmer, and he said if I can’t do some solar on this land, the farm’s going to go down and I won’t be able to pass it on. That’s just what he told me,” Rivet said.
Members of the committee advanced the bill to the Senate floor with a 10-3 vote, with Sens. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes) and Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe) voting in opposition. Minority Vice Chair Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway) abstained from the vote “out of abundance of caution,” as he owns land enrolled in the farmland and open space preservation program.
Members of the Committee also discussed Senate Bills 271 and 273, which were initially included on Thursday’s agenda, but were removed due to a delay in drafting bills to reflect changes to the initially proposed legislation.
When introduced, Senate Bill 271, sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), would amend the 2008 Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act to remove biomass, landfill gas and fuel produced from waste from the state’s definition of renewable energy resources. The bills would also strengthen the state’s renewable energy requirements, requiring energy providers to utilize 100% renewable sources in their portfolio by 2035, which would include approved nuclear energy sources.
As introduced, Senate Bill 273, sponsored by Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), would also amend the Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act, increasing the State’s energy waste reduction standard to 2% of total annual electricity sales.
Ahead of the committee meeting, House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) released a statement criticizing the Senate policies arguing Democrats’ clean energy push was aimed at appeasing activists and that a pivot to renewable energy resources would harm the state’s already poor electrical reliability and raise costs for residents.
However, Democrats and clean energy advocates have touted clean energy as a solution to the state’s energy reliability and affordability woes.
“We knew Republicans would attempt to mislead Michiganders with false claims about rising costs and reliability issues. But the data doesn’t lie: Clean energy will lower the average Michigan household’s energy prices by at least $145 a year. … On top of that, renewables will help prevent the state’s increasing blackouts in the face of extreme weather events and increased demand,” said Courtney Bourgoin, Midwest senior policy and advocacy manager for Evergreen Action, referencing an August report from 5 Lakes Energy.
Reps. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) and Rep. Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes) issued similar criticisms of House Democrats’ proposed clean energy standard — which does not include nuclear energy — during a press conference Thursday morning. Filler, who chairs the Legislature’s bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus, saying restricting nuclear energy would be a mistake.
While Geiss and Singh offered updates on changes to their legislation, and took questions from committee members, the committee did not vote on the bills.