2018-06-10 / Front Page

Chesaning Village Council gives approval to solar farm lease

By Jeanne Marcello
Staff Reporter

VILLAGE OF CHESANING – The Chesaning Village Council held a public hearing on June 5 to receive public comment about the proposal to lease 26 acres of village property to be used for a solar farm. After listening to the potential concerns of neighbors, the council voted unanimously to approve the lease agreement with Sun20 and called for the village planning commission to draft an ordinance for solar farms.

Under the agreement, Sun20 will pay the Village of Chesaning $1,000 per acre, per year for 20 years, with additional increases as set forth in the agreement. The property is located on Frandsche Road. It was purchased several years ago with the intention of building another runway for the Chesaning airport. However, the council later learned that since Deer Creek separates the Frandsche Road property from the existing airport, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) wouldn’t approve it. Consequently, the village has been leasing the property to a farmer for growing crops.

In recent years, village officials have focused on increasing revenues to pay off the village’s unfunded pension liabilities. Leasing the property to Sun20 generates considerably more revenue than leasing the land for farming.

During the public hearing, Ed Bishop, who lives on neighboring property, told the village council that the setback is the most important factor to him; the potential for glare and electromagnetic fields are other concerns.

Bishop said he talked with a neighbor of the Lapeer solar farm. “He noticed more varmints; raccoons and possums,” Bishop said. He also asked about weed control. Bishop observed that at the Lapeer solar facility, there doesn’t appear to be any houses as close as his to the solar farm.

Sun20 representative Victor Holton said, “We are very excited about the site.” He talked about the value of expanding the state’s renewable energy; particularly with the state requirements.

Holton downplayed the effects of electromagnetic problems since this would be a lower voltage facility, he said.

He added, “Studies show when you get 50 to 100 feet away, the electromagnetic field is virtually undetectable. We want to keep the property clean and tidy. We come out two or three times a year to maintain the sites. There’s a potential to grow local wildflowers. As far as wildlife, our biggest concern is deer. There would be a fence around the facility. Overall, a solar farm is a good neighbor. It’s quiet. There are no moving parts.”

Holton explained the solar panels would be lined up from north to south and the panels would follow the sun from east to west. Lapeer’s solar panels don’t rotate, they are fixed. He said, “Two years ago, it wouldn’t have made sense to place a solar farm in Chesaning. But the economics of solar has significantly improved. We’re selling this energy to Consumers Energy.”

Bishop asked how much energy the Chesaning solar farm would produce.

Holton responded, the 26-acre project would generate 2,600 megawatt hours per year. “It’s a pretty good amount. We like working with local communities. This site works well,” he added.

Chesaning resident Jack Barrett asked, “Are there any comparable operations like this? Do you have any plans or examples?”

Holton said, “Unfortunately, I don’t. But there are many similar projects across the country that use this technology.”

Barrett asked about the potential for Consumers Energy to walk out on the contract.

Holton responded, “The contract we enter into with them is very restrictive. People wouldn’t want to invest if Consumers Energy could pull out. The only way they could pull out would be if power is no longer essential.”

Councilman Trent Vondrasek said, “The state mandated 15 percent renewable energy by 2021. They’re nowhere near that. I doubt Consumers Energy would pull out.”

Barrett expressed concern that Sun20 didn’t have any diagrams or plans to show.

Village administrator Troy Feltman said, “The design would be in adherence to the ordinance. We will draft the ordinance around best practices. They’re not driving the design, we are.”

Barrett said, “This one is going to rotate. It could growl all night long.”

Holton responded, “I’d be happy to provide some sample ordinances. About the rotation, it’s the speed of the sun. (The movement) It’s barely noticeable.”

Feltman said, “We already have it on the books; zero decibels at the lot line.”

Bishop also expressed concern that glare from the solar panels might affect pilots.

Holton responded, “It’s like an airport near water.”

Feltman is arranging a field trip for village planning and council officials to tour a solar farm in Lapeer. Feltman said, “We’re hopeful that community will help us with the ordinance, (sharing) what they did right and what they’d do differently.”

Now that the village council has approved the lease agreement with Sun20, the planning commission will start working on an ordinance.

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