States Resetting Siting to Defend Clean Energy, Farmers, and Property Rights

January 27, 2023

The 2022 elections have unexpectedly flipped the script in Michigan and Minnesota, giving Democratic lawmakers a “trifecta” of control in legislative houses and the governor’s chair.

Among the target areas that Democrats are going to take on in my home state of Michigan, is siting reform for clean energy projects, many of which have been bogged down by a mob intimidation campaign directed at the smallest units of government, the township Planning Commissions and Boards.

I’m working on this story and will have more soon, but suffice to say many local officials have had harrowing experiences, and they have been sounding off about it to their representatives in Lansing,
So it even before the election , I was hearing strong rumblings even from the Republican side of the aisle, who represent these largely conservative rural districts, that some kind of reform was on the way to break the logjam.

Now that Dems control both houses, and have a strong orientation toward clean energy (along with a large majority of the state’s residents), that kind of reform seems even more likely – but legislators, and the journalists who cover this issue, need to be shaken out of the naive notion that this is somehow about reasonable disagreements among honest local parties.
What we are seeing is a comprehensive and well organized national campaign by the fossil fuel industry and their allies, dozens of “think tanks” around the country, and wealthy real estate developers, using well oiled social media campaigns and a template that includes mobs who move from township to township, disrupting meetings and intimidating officials who dare to care about the future of farming and a livable planet for their grandchildren.


As Bridge recently reported, renewable energy developers are increasingly facing opposition to wind and solar arrays by neighbors who fear declining property values and sullied views if the arrays are built nearby. 

That opposition has frequently resulted in local-level moratoriums on new solar development, or zoning decisions that scuttle developments already in the works. 

Jameson, of MEC, said her group would like to see the Legislature tackle the renewable siting issue as part of a broader energy reform package.

It’s an area of general agreement between environmentalists and utilities. But still unclear is whether the solution might come from legislation to regulate some aspects of solar siting at the state level, education campaigns to sell locals on the benefits of hosting utility-scale wind and solar projects, or tax incentives to make solar more enticing to host communities. 

Hofmeister also said he expects conversation in Lansing about revising tax policies to create “more stable” payments to local communities that host wind and solar, and expedited court reviews for lawsuits against renewable development permits. 

Illinois is already moving ahead with this kind of legislation.

Illinois News Room:

bill awaiting Governor JB Pritzker’s signature will set statewide standards for wind and solar farm siting.

Until now, counties have enjoyed wide latitude in setting the rules for where wind and solar energy arrays can locate. The new law would preempt local ordinances more restrictive than the new state standards.

Jen Walling is executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. She said some county requirements were so restrictive that they were essentially bans on clean energy developments.

“A number of these counties weren’t representing their constituents and were taking away individual property rights,” she said.

Wind arrays in particular have created controversy, usually from landowners of properties neighboring those participating in the projects. The state law would create a setback requirement of 1.1 times the maximum blade tip height of the wind tower to the nearest point on the property line of nonparticipating properties, or 2.1 times for nonparticipating residences.

The law also requires occupied community buildings or nonparticipating residences not experience more than 30 hours of shadow flicker per year. Those are the moving shadows created by moving wind turbine blades at certain times of the day.

The Illinois Farm Bureau was opposed to House Bill 4412. Director of state legislation Kevin Semlow said the group finds the legislation lacking in some areas.

“Some of the setback distances within the legislation need to be adjusted to better reflect a much safer and adequate way that those facilities should be sited,” Semlow said.

The Farm Bureau also wants the Illinois Department of Agriculture and local counties to have more authority in the legislation to enforce agricultural impact mitigation agreements, and more language addressing drainage issues from the developments.

Walling said the legislation doesn’t take counties out of the process. She said the law still require public hearings, building and road use permits, and other ways for the public and local government officials to participate in wind and solar array siting.

“There are standards that are set in the bill that are used in a number of different counties that have successfully had wind projects that are supported by the county and supported by the neighbors. So, we put in some some of those things that have worked in a number of counties throughout the state,” she said, noting the standards do take various environmental and ecological factors into account.

State senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) was a co-sponsor of the legislation. He said it’s a good compromise measure.

“I think that this is a good attempt to kind of strike a balance between a state standard and local control,” he said.

Walling said environmental groups worked closely with Gov. Pritzker’s office on the bill, and she expects it to be signed into law.

“Ultimately, the climate crisis is hitting us and we need to see these,” said Walling. “I think there’s also a real challenge in downstate Illinois, with economic development, where we’re seeing jobs and factories closed, not related to anything that has to do with environmental protection. That has to do with the economy. And the more that we can bring property tax dollars into distressed communities, the better off we’re going to be as a state.”

Gov. Pritzker pledges to convert Illinois to 100% clean energy by 2050.

Montcalm County, MI, January 26, 2022

Below, an op-ed that appearing in the Greenville, MI, Daily News in the last week, describing the bind that local officials are finding themselves in, and calling for state intervention. The concern is not just about clean energy – it is about the survival of family farms, respect for property rights that runs deep in rural communities, and the very fabric of democracy at the most fundamental grass roots level.

Don Smucker in the Greenville Daily News:

This new year of 2023 blew right in to Montcalm County with big changes with many our township elected officials. Depending on which side of the green energy conflict you support, you are either very delighted or deeply concerned.

I for one am very concerned.

Our conflict is about the use of our privately held lands. Decisions regarding commercial energy installations are made at the level our local units of government, which in our case involves townships. They have been on the receiving end of almost every contentious tactic imaginable by those who, in my opinion, simply do not want to look at any wind turbine or solar panel anywhere close to them because they do not like how they look. They have used the excuse of claiming harm to public health and safety and touting the “democratic” process of voting out anything or anyone they do not agree with. I do not think that health or safety are the real issues, nor do I think that the process been democratic.

These green energy installations are in place all over the U.S. and the world and are generating a lot of energy and additional public benefits without the damaging effects that are being claimed by our local opponents. Our decision process has been hijacked by them in an effort to keep them out of our area.

The zoning process relies on a reasonable, well thought out and well written ordinance if it is going to be effective. But our process has been to find the most restrictive ordinances that exist and copy and paste their provisions and force them into place into our townships.

Other states are adopting statewide standards that do provide adequate protection of public health and safety; that protect private property rights and allow for reasonable development of commercial wind and solar projects. Such standards include, but are not limited to property setbacks and other siting issues. They ensure that adequate funds are in place for decommissioning and non-payment of property taxes. Developments are encouraged to be prioritized to result in placements on non-prime farmland or other lands that may be otherwise may be vacant. Developments should also be required to minimize impact on adjacent non-participating landowners.

Good zoning practice considers the interests of all of those who are affected by their decisions. A good zoning process will probably involve a situation where none of the parties are fully satisfied by the resulting decisions. In short, good zoning involves making compromises and trying to balance what may be the self-interests of the parties involved for the benefit of the larger community. That is not an easy or straightforward process, and it sadly can be all to easily misdirected as we have seen happen here.

One purpose of our democratic government is to allow citizens to solve problems through compromise without resorting to the violence that we have witnessed. But to solve a problem, you must first agree that it exists. Democracy therefore requires a shared sense of reality. We have splintered into a “choose your own reality” society where our citizens self-select into whatever version of the world they want to inhabit based on whatever is reflected back to them by the social media or other media they follow (truth doesn’t count).

The only institution that can help us deal with reality now is our state government. I do not believe that we can bring about the process of pursuing the reality and reasonableness that this will take locally. We have already had more than enough damage to our townships by our process up to this point. In my opinion, it also does not have a prayer of being resolved by the one issue individuals that are now being put into place that have only one primary objective-no turbines or so few that an energy company will not install project.

So I say, please, State of Michigan, Montcalm County needs your help. We need a reasonable set of rules to guide our green energy siting processes and we are incapable of doing it by ourselves.

Don Smucker is a retired Montcalm County resident aging in place in Stanton.


2 Responses to “States Resetting Siting to Defend Clean Energy, Farmers, and Property Rights”

  1. COP27 Action Agenda:…

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Anybody else here remember Time Cube?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: