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Michigan House votes to restrict local permitting of solar, wind farms

Wind turbine farms have caused local controversies throughout Michigan. Bills approved by the state House would take permitting power for the projects from local communities and give it to the state's Public Service Commission. (Bridge file photo)
  • Voting along party lines, Michigan House passes bills to give state permitting authority over big renewable energy projects
  • The projects have split local communities, and foes say that has slowed progress
  • Opponents say local governments, not Lansing, should control their own future

LANSING — The Michigan House voted along party lines late Wednesday to give the state permitting authority over large-scale renewable energy projects, wresting control from local governments that are often hostile to them.

The legislation is a key part of a broader suite of energy reform bills passed by the Legislature that would dramatically alter how Michigan gets its energy, mandating utilities draw all their power from clean sources by 2040.

Under House Bills 5120-23, the Michigan Public Service Commission would have permitting authority over wind, solar and energy storage projects over 100-megawatts (350 acres for a project that generates 7 megawatts-per-acre) and wind projects over 100-megawatts (about 35 turbines), along with large energy storage projects.

The legislation passed with a slew of amendments made on the House floor, including a provision that would allow local governments to keep permitting authority if they pass their own ordinance mirroring key aspects of the state’s proposed permitting system. Developers could still go to the state if a community takes too long to review a proposal, or rejects a proposal that complies with an approved ordinance.

Democratic sponsors say a uniform permitting system would help the state meet its clean energy goals by circumventing the bitter fights that have broken out in rural communities over renewable energy and forced developers to cancel projects.

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” one sponsor, Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, told Bridge after introducing the legislation. 

“A significant reason for that is that there's an inconsistent process with siting in our state, which results in confusion for developers and a slowdown for protecting our planet.”


The bills, which will now go to the Senate for consideration, have support from unions, environmental groups and the renewable energy industry. It faces opposition from local government advocates, who call it a heavy-handed policy that undermines communities’ right to determine their future.

Rep. Matthew Bierlein, R-Vassar and a former president of the Michigan Association of Counties, accused Democrats of “fast-tracking” the legislation to “override the will of voters who do not want these projects.”

The proposal has divided rural voters. Some farmers favor changes that would make it easier to lease their land for wind or solar developments, while some neighbors cite concerns about environmental impacts, lost cropland and sullied views.

The state’s largest utilities plan to build out thousands of acres of wind and solar arrays in the coming years. It’s expected to require a small fraction of Michigan’s farmland, but bill critics said they fear an uneven distribution of projects could overwhelm some communities with massive developments. 

Dozens of people protested the bills outside the Capitol a day ahead of Thursday’s vote. 

Diane Hullet, who lives on a sixth-generation family farm in Riley Township, said she has resisted overtures from power companies about installing wind turbines or solar panels on her property.

"I am furious at (lawmakers) for even beginning to try to tell us what to do," Hullet told Bridge Michigan "I would never tell Lansing how to run their operations. I don't know anything about that. They know nothing about us. They know nothing about our lifestyle."

Bridge Michigan Capitol reporter Jonathan Oosting contributed to this report.

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