State board OKs petition to repeal Michigan renewable energy siting law
- Democrats passed legislation in November that gives the state power to approve wind and solar projects over local objections
- Opponents of the bill received approval Friday of summary language for a proposed ballot initiative that would repeal the law
LANSING—The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Friday approved summary language for a proposed ballot initiative that aims to repeal a law that allows the state to override local rejections of large wind and solar projects.
The bipartisan board’s 4-0 vote clears the way for the group Citizens for Local Choice to begin gathering signatures in hopes of reversing Public Act 233, a law passed in November that established statewide permitting standards for large-scale renewable energy projects that had previously been permitted at the local level.
Citizens for Local Choice is fighting the law because “it completely takes away local control,” said Andrea Hansen, an attorney representing the group. “The locals should be more involved in something at this scale in their community.”
- Group launches campaign to overturn Michigan solar siting law
- Proposed state oversight of solar, wind pits energy needs v. rural rights
- Wind wars: Wind turbines put green energy on the ballot in mid-Michigan
Opponents of the ballot initiative argue revoking state control would allow a vocal minority to stall Michigan’s renewable energy transition and violate farmers’ private property rights to host such projects.
“It's important that we have these facilities in the state,” said Mark Brewer, an attorney representing Our Land Our Rights, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters’ ballot question committee. “They reduce pollution, improve the public health, and provide a lot of jobs and financial benefits to local communities.”
Initiative backers hope to put the issue on November’s ballot. Here’s what to know:
Citing concerns that a rural backlash against large wind and solar arrays is hindering Michigan’s energy transition, Democrats passed legislation in November that gives the state power to approve renewable energy projects over local objections.
The law passed along party lines, with Republicans uniformly opposed.
It was among the more contentious aspects of Democrats’ suite of bills designed to speed up Michigan’s clean energy transition.
While environmental and labor groups and some farmers called the reforms necessary to Michigan’s energy transition, local government advocates and the Michigan Farm Bureau expressed dismay. They contended that placing ultimate permitting authority in the state’s hands deprives local communities of the right to make their own land use decisions.
Why it matters
As the threat of climate change prompts a society-wide push to ditch fossil fuels, Michigan government and utilities have committed to decarbonizing the state’s energy grid by midcentury.
To do that, experts with the Michigan Public Service Commission estimate Michigan may need to dedicate 209,000 more acres of land to wind and solar development.
Utilities need large properties for those arrays, and they usually find it in farmland. Farmers benefit financially from the ability to lease their property for renewable energy development. But neighbors sometimes object, citing fears of sullied views, declining property values, safety or environmental concerns.
Throughout Michigan and across the country, that opposition has resulted in local recalls of public officials, moratoriums against new wind and solar development, and cancellation of projects.
The debate has opened a rift in rural communities, pitting neighbors against neighbors. Those battle lines were evident at Friday’s hearing in Lansing.
“I can’t do on my property what I’d like to do, and I’m trying to save my family farm,” said Kevin Health of Milan Township. He accused “big money and outside forces” of stoking opposition to renewable energy in his community.
But local government officials contend the antidote to those local battles doesn’t lie in statewide regulations that give communities little leeway to decide how, and under what circumstances, renewable energy fits into their landscape.
“Our local communities are best situated to take care of the health, safety and welfare of our communities, because we are in touch with them,” said Nancy Laskowski, a planning commissioner in Tuscola County.
What does the ballot proposal aim to do?
The ballot proposal aims to rescind the November law, placing permitting authority back in the hands of local governments.
Specifically, it would amend the title and Section 13 of the Clean and Renewable Waste Reduction Act, striking language that authorizes the state to certify the construction of large wind, solar and energy storage facilities.
The group’s full petition language is here.
Who is behind the proposal?
The Citizens for Local Choice ballot committee is an offshoot of Our Home, Our Voice, a coalition that advocates for local control over issues from short-term vacation rentals to renewable energy and gravel mine permitting.
The group’s leadership includes Kevon Martis, a Lenawee County commissioner and longtime fellow with the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a conservative think tank that opposes renewable energy.
In an interview with Bridge Michigan, a key backer of the ballot initiative said it is not an attack on renewable energy.
“It’s about siting,” ballot committee member Roger Johnson told Bridge earlier this month. “And Michigan’s tradition has been that villages, cities, townships…deal with land use.”
What happened Friday?
The four-member state Board of Canvassers certified summary language describing the proposal.
The board, which is made up of two Democratic and two Republicans appointed by the governor, is tasked with election-administration duties. Groups seeking to place initiatives on the ballot are not required to get the board’s approval of summary language, but it’s viewed as insurance against potential legal challenges.
The 94-word summary approved Friday reads as follows:
Initiation of legislation to: amend the clean and renewable energy and energy waste reduction by repealing statewide requirements for the construction and development of certain wind and solar energy facilities and energy storage facilities, including: assessment of environmental natural resources, and farmland impact; wages and benefits requirements for workers; setback distance; size and height structures; and amount of light and sound emitted. If enacted, this proposal would allow local units of government to determine their own standards for such facilities.
Board members also conditionally approved the petition form initiative backers will use to collect signatures to get the measure on ballot.
What happens next:
Proponents of the ballot initiative will start collecting signatures from Michigan voters as soon as next week, Hansen said.
They need 356,958 signatures, and under state law, they have 180 days to collect them.
But if they hope to bring the issue before voters in November, they have just 131 days. That’s because May 29 is the deadline to get an initiative on this fall’s general election ballot.
If they can’t meet the deadline, initiative backers plan to continue collecting signatures in hopes of getting on the Nov. 2026 ballot.
Michigan Environment Watch
Michigan Environment Watch examines how public policy, industry, and other factors interact with the state’s trove of natural resources.
Michigan Environment Watch is made possible by generous financial support from:
Our generous Environment Watch underwriters encourage Bridge Michigan readers to also support civic journalism by becoming Bridge members. Please consider joining today.
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!