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Shiawassee County is home to Michigan's largest solar farm. Protesters don't want any more of them.

Shiawassee County residents protesting further development of solar farms in the county
Posted at 1:04 PM, Aug 19, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — Protesters gathered ahead of last week's Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners meeting to make clear that they don't want any more solar farms built in the county.

"Solar developers are on the loose. Let's put it this way, they're on the loose and they want to do whatever they can to destroy the American farmland," said Venice Township resident Tammy Dasen, who was carrying a sign that read "No solar farms."

Tammy Dasen with her "NO SOLAR FARMS" sign
Tammy Dasen with her "NO SOLAR FARMS" sign

Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners Chair Greg Brodeur said he's heard a lot of complaints about solar farms, "but the main one unfortunately comes to, and I'm oversimplifying, but, 'They're ugly.'"

Brodeur said it's a moot point, however, as there are no applications at the county level to build more solar farms.

"However, some of the townships have their own jurisdictions and their own planning commissions and may be considering them, but of course that is out of the hands of the county planning authority," Brodeur said.

Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners Chair Greg Brodeur
Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners Chair Greg Brodeur

Protest organizer Rex Wheeler is the president and CEO of Wheeler Trucking in New Lothrop. He started protesting against solar power energy developments earlier this year, after the first phase of the largest solar farm in Michigan was built in Hazelton and Venice Townships by Ranger Power. He's concerned that more solar farms could hurt the value of the neighboring homes.

"The farmland owner is getting good money to sell his land or lease his land, but what about his neighbor?" Wheeler said.

Anti-solar farms protest organizer Rex Wheeler
Anti-solar farms protest organizer Rex Wheeler

"People don't like to look at them. They moved into an area, and, I understand this, that's zoned agricultural," Brodeur said. "They expect to look across their street at corn and beans and so on and suddenly they're looking at solar farms."

Yet, the solar farm in Shiawassee County pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to the county in taxes each year.

"We have a lot of unfunded liabilities in this county. We have about $40 million in unfunded liabilities," Brodeur said. "There's an opportunity for the county to have some economic development to make some money. Then on the other hand, there's also the farmers."

Ranger Power president and co-founder Paul Harris said these projects "don't exist without farmers working with us hand-in-hand."

President and co-founder of Ranger Power Paul Harris
President and co-founder of Ranger Power Paul Harris

"And, it's a fabulous deal for them," Brodeur said. "The people who own the farmland are getting paid far more than it's worth as agricultural land."

"Farmers, many of the ones that join our projects, their perspective is this is an opportunity to diversify their income stream...and an opportunity to farm for longer," Harris said. "We decommission and restore the land to farmland once the project's complete."

Brodeur said it's hard for the county to "tell the property owner, 'No, we're not going to let you do that because your neighbor wants to look at corn.' The property owner's rights have to be a consideration here."

Brodeur said the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners doesn't plan to change any policies regarding solar farms at this time, because there is simply no need.

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