Caledonia ZBA delays solar site again

Renergetica Vice President of Development Justin Vandenbroeck outlines the company's proposed visual barriers for the proposed Lyons Road Solar Project Aug. 7 during the township zoning board of appeals meeting.

CALEDONIA TWP. — The Caledonia Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) agreed once again Wednesday night to table a decision on a proposed 200-acre solar farm along Lyons Road as the board waits for an independent, third-party cost estimate of Renergetica’s proposed decommissioning plan.

As part of the current site plan that is under appeal, Renergetica outlined an approximately $300,000 decommissioning plan to remove equipment when the life of the operation ends. The plan has been repeatedly questioned by local residents, including Eric Weber, who lives in Crestview Heights subdivision. Weber filed the appeal.

Weber said previously that he had acquired a cost estimate for decommissioning the proposed solar farm totaling more than $1 million, and he doesn’t want the township and residents to be stuck footing the bill if Renergetica doesn’t have the money.

ZBA Chairman Rod Confer said he wants to make sure the ZBA has all of the necessary information before making a final decision.

“There’s a lot of numbers floating around for this,” Confer said, “I’m just thinking that doing our due diligence we ought to go ahead and at least take a look at it.”

The proposed $30 million Lyons Road Solar Project, if built, is expected to produce 26.8 megawatts of electricity, which could power up to 26,000 homes. Lake Mary, Florida-based Renergetica hopes to build the project on property leased from two different landowners. The property extends from Cornell Road south to Lyons Road and would abut the Crestview subdivision along the east side of the project.

On Aug. 7, the ZBA ruled Renergetica must seek out an impartial third party to complete a cost estimate for the project’s removal, with the understanding the third party would be selected by the Caledonia Township Board.

On Aug. 21, the township board selected Bierlein Company, based in Midland.

Zoning Administrator Doug Piggott said the timetable for Bierlein to provide the cost estimate of the decommissioning is unknown.

If the estimate is received within the next two weeks, Piggott said ZBA members will try to schedule a special meeting; if it takes any longer, Piggott said the estimate will be reviewed during the ZBA’s next regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 2.

Justin Vandenbroeck, vice president of development at Renergetica, said the solar project is expected to create 150 to 200 temporary construction jobs and take between six and 12 months to complete.

He also said the solar project will generate more than $300,000 annually in property tax revenue, and operate for at least 35 years.

The proposed project will be split between two adjoining parcels that send power into the same Consumers Energy substation along Cornell Road.

The first parcel, starting 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 adjacent parcel, to the south and reaching Lyons Road, is expected to be 210 acres and include 72,000 solar panels. The site will generate 24 megawatts at peak performance.

Renergetica received both its special use permit and site plan approval May 2, from the township planning commission. The project was expected to go before the township board, but Weber and his fellow neighbors chipped in to cover the $600 non-refundable administrative fee for an appeal of the approval of the site plan for the Lyons Road site.

Wednesday, Weber outlined the visual barrier concerns of residents along Aiken Road, who live west of the northern, smaller parcel at the corner of Cornell Road and Ridgeview Drive.

Piggott noted that Weber’s appeal only applied to the site plan of the southern, Lyons Road site.

“There was no appeal for the northern project,” Piggott said, “and it’s not just the fact that Mr. Weber was emphasizing and concerned primarily with the southern project, but in order to appeal a project you have to have an interest in the project.”

To constitute an interest, a resident must live within 300 feet of the parcel in question. Residents within 300 feet of the Lyons Road site have repeatedly been notified of the project and subsequent meetings via letters in the mail, according to Piggott.

“Mr. Weber is within 300 feet of the southern project, he’s not within 300 feet of the northern project and wouldn’t have had the basis to file an appeal on the northern project in any case,” Piggott said.

Weber and Vandenbroeck reached an agreement regarding the adequacy of visual barriers for the Lyons Road site on Aug. 29.

“We’ve replaced deciduous trees with evergreen trees, we’ve imposed a higher density of trees and higher density of bushes upon ourselves, and that’s not necessarily required,” Vandenbroeck said previously. “To accomodate elevation differences between the site and adjacent properties, we’ve incorporated four-foot-tall berms and more mature trees to help accomodate that so at no point when there’s residential homes in close proximity to the site will there be trees under five feet to their view.”

Vandenbroeck also agreed to provide additional visual buffering along the northwest corner of the site, in the form of a 6-foot fence draped with fabric.

The proposed changes to the site plan will cost about $250,000, Vandenbroeck said.

Weber said he’s proud of his neighbors for voicing their concerns and working to make some changes, but at the same time, he said he believes not everyone is getting a fair shake.

“I think we were able to get some concessions which were positive, especially for the people on the south site. Unfortunately, the people on the north site have kind of been left in the dust because they didn’t quite make the cut on the 300 foot away part of the ordinance, Weber said. “But then that brings to question how effective is the ordinance in really addressing these types of issues and protecting the homeowners that live in the township. Those people on the north site, their property is 330 feet away. Why should 30 feet make a difference when it’s affecting their quality of life and their property value? That’s not fair, that’s not right.

“All of the people that have been affected by this are really great, genuine, sincere people that live here because they love the area and they love the natural setting,” Weber continued. “They just want to live their lives in an area of peace and solitude and sanctuary. When that’s disrupted, that makes all of us nervous, that makes all of us unsettled, because, you know, our backyards, our front yards, wherever we chill out, that’s our sanctuary, that’s our solace, that’s our place to forget about all of the craziness of the world and just kick back.”

During his presentation Aug. 7, Vandenbroeck maintained that Caledonia Township is not the only authority Renergetica has to obey.

Prior to construction at the site, Renergetica must also receive approval from the Shiawassee Drain Commission for a drain permit, gain approval from the Shiawassee County Health Department for a soil erosion and sediment control permit, as well as gain approval from the state for a storm water construction permit. Furthermore, the project must receive approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Vandenbroeck said.

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