CALEDONIA TWP. — The proposed Lyons Road Solar Project has yet to go before the township board, and the earliest a decision could be made is June 17, but some residents around the Crestview Heights subdivision are hoping to ensure that decision is pushed out even further.
Nearly 20 residents gathered Wednesday night to voice their concerns about the solar farm, while also trying to form a clear plan for future action.
The meeting was one of three in May led by Eric Weber and his wife Linda, who live near the south side of the subdivision on Woodvalley Drive.
Weber said it’s the larget turnout they’ve had so far.
“We just started throwing texts around. We have a group of people, friends and neighbors, and we just started texting everybody and pretty soon we got numbers of other neighbors,” he said. “Yesterday and today we printed out fliers and distributed them throughout entire subdivision. When we told people about this, a lot of them had no idea.”
The $30-million Lyons Road Solar Project is expected to produce 26.8 megawatts of electricity when complete, which could power up to 26,000 homes. Lake Mary, Florida-based Renergetica hopes to build the project on leased property from two different landowners.
Justin Vandenbroeck, vice president of development at Renergetica, previously said the solar project is expected to create 100 to 150 construction jobs and take about nine months to complete.
He also said these solar projects will generate more than $300,000 in new property taxes and operate for at least 35 years.
Vandenbroeck said his company chose Michigan primarily because of Consumers Energy’s plan to incorporate 5 gigawatts of solar energy into its grid in the next 10 years. It would take 200 solar farms to meet that goal.
The proposed project will be split between two sites that send power into the same Consumers Energy substation located along Monroe Road.
The first, near the corner of Cornell Road and Ridgeview Drive, is 20 acres and could hold 8,064 solar panels. It will generate 2.8 megawatts of electricity at peak performance.
The second site off Lyons Road is expected to be 210 acres and include 72,000 solar panels. The site will generate 24 megawatts at peak performance.
Weber received a flier in the mail in late January outlining where the proposed solar farm would be built; it prompted him to attend the Township Planning Commission Meeting March 7. At the meeting, Weber asked questions of the commission, though he felt his concerns were met with little sincerity.
“Our greatest concern would be a quality of life reduction for the people where it’s very important for them to have a pristine, natural-looking environment for them to enjoy. And also a potential decrease in property value, where they have invested their hard earned dollars,” Weber said. “To have a place that’s safe and beautiful and welcoming and warm and peaceful for their families, and to suddenly have something kind of jammed down their throats, that really affects that part of their goals and their lifetime aspirations.”
Weber and his neighbors agreed Wednesday night that their next course of action will be submitting an appeal to the Caledonia Township Zoning Board of Appeals, which holds its next meetings June 5 and July 10. An application for the appeal of the planning commission decision must be submitted by the end of the month, according to Weber, and there’s a $600 non-refundable administrative fee attached. Neighbors plan to chip in to cover the cost. From there, they will prepare a presentation for the July 10 meeting.
Residents also discussed the idea of seeking legal counsel. A few residents said they plan to make calls this week to determine legal costs.
Renergetica, the company behind the proposed project, received both its special use permit and site plan approval May 2, from the planning commission. Though the project still needs approval from the township board, resident Brian True said his neighbors have an uphill battle ahead.
“As long as you comply with the parameters that are laid out in the current zoning ordinance, you are given your zoning special use permit,” True said. “You’ll hate it, but whether or not it impacts your land property doesn’t matter, whether or not it’s unappealing doesn’t matter.”
True is a commercial real estate broker, specializing in heavy industrial projects. He is familiar with similar initiatives and said the best course of action for the neighborhood would be to try negotiating with the company directly.
“I think that the people creating the solar facility, my hope would be that they would be understanding of that and would seek to work with the local homeowners to provide something that was more appealing as far as a barrier between the solar farm and the local homeowners,” True said. “That’s really where I would focus, how can we possibly work with the township and with the builders to build something that is a benefit to the community rather than perceived as an eyesore.”
Weber said in a perfect world, Renergetica would find another location to put its solar farm. At this point, he said he plans to reach out to the company to try to work out some concessions, including a potential break on monthly energy bills for residents bordering the project, as well as a higher barrier along the property line, to reduce visibility of the panels.
“The biggest thing is if they can walk out in their yard and not have to look at an industrial looking site, that’s probably the biggest issue. If there’s a really good barrier then potential buyers are not gonna have a concern about it either and the potential erosion of property values could be lessened, or maybe even negated,” Weber said.
The Caledonia Township project is the second solar farm proposed in the county.
In January the Shiawassee County Planning Commission approved a special use permit for Assembly Solar Project. New York-based Ranger Power is behind the $250-million solar farms in Hazelton and Venice townships.
The county dealt with the Ranger project because it oversees zoning in Hazelton and Venice townships. Caledonia Township handles its own zoning.