Misinformation Leads to Solar Ordinance Pushback in Michigan

5 mins read

On Sept. 19, LaSalle Township Board meeting voted on their large-scale solar ordinance. As I entered the office from across the street there was a table with “informational handouts” from the No To Solar group with four or five people staffing the table. The room filled fast and was standing room only by 7 p.m. 

The board meeting opened with members describing their anguish over answering emails and phone calls in recent weeks. The vote was 3 to 2 to remove AG1 and AG2 farmland from large-scale solar. Setbacks were set at 500 feet from non-participating landowners’ property lines. 

The exact same scenario played out in Milan Township on the same night when the Planning Commission Draft Ordinance was changed to eliminate AG1 and AG2 from solar usage by the board. Coordination? Coincidence? Outside influence?

After the vote, the board opened the room to public comments. Over and over we heard complaints that the community hadn’t heard about the solar ordinance. The board repeatedly said, “It’s been in discussion for over a year!” One man said, “We didn’t hear about it until the yard signs came out about two weeks ago! This was the best kept secret in LaSalle Township!” Another constituent asked, “Why was the township news being reported in the Monroe News? No one gets the newspaper anymore! We need to have emails sent out to all the residents!” The board said, “They would have to hire someone to do that.” My guess is the reason is they have no money for that.

The questions droned on with the usual questionable, unchallenged, No To Solar misinformation that many of us have heard over and over at other townships. The economic impact is huge. Adjacent Erie Township’s Temperance Road Solar farm generates $296,771 in taxes per year. When this same property was a hay farm, it produced only $4,498 on the 100 acres. What could LaSalle have done with a similar windfall tax increase?

Dan Rigato, resident of Raisinville Township and the administrator for Stop Solar! Save the Farms! Facebook group, thanked the board for its work and dedication. He asked the room for a hand count on who was a LaSalle resident. Hands were raised but not Dan’s. Dan doesn’t live there, he does not live in most townships he seeks to influence. He represents a faction of anti-solar groups who I believe share data on how to manipulate local residents. Their funding is unclear but we do see the results from aggravating uninformed residents two weeks before a critical vote.

The board shirked its responsibility and took the easy way out, opening the township to legal action. According to mlive.com, Manchester Township is being sued for failing to make the specific findings of fact based on the record as required by applicable law, and its decision was not supported by the record. Falling to pressure by misinformed residents who were not paying attention to the ongoing year-long debate while listening to outside agitators with misinformation is the fault of an uninformed constituency. They shirked their civic duty to learn facts. Blaming their ignorance on not getting the newspaper is no excuse.

Exclusionary zoning is illegal in Michigan. 500-foot setbacks at property lines are considered “taking” (a tactic used in zoning to make solar or wind projects uneconomic for developers) in Michigan law. Townships may be held responsible for redress. I think the township knows this but didn’t convey that fact to the obviously uninformed room. Farmers do have property rights if they stick together against illegal overregulation. LaSalle was the loser that night and they don’t know it! But most on the board do!

Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

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Paul Wohlfarth lives in Riga Township Michigan and is a Chrysler UAW retiree with 31 years of service. He is a green energy advocate who owns an American-made plug-in Hybrid and powers his home with solar.

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