Caledonia solar farm receives final OK

A view of property where a proposed solar farm could take shape near the corner of Ridgeview and Hillside drives.

CALEDONIA TWP. — After an appeal process that spanned nearly six months, the $30-million Lyons Road Solar Project may be ready to move forward.

The Caledonia Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved a decommissioning cost estimate for the project Wednesday, although the number came in higher than anticipated by company officials, which could lead to an appeal on their behalf.

The proposed 200-acre solar farm, once finished, is expected to produce 26.8 megawatts of electricity, which could power up to 26,000 homes. Lake Mary, Florida-based Renergetica plans 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 northeast portion of the project.

The approval of a $389,000 decommissioning cost estimate Wednesday marked the resolution of the fifth and final issue outlined in an appeal of the site plan filed by Eric Weber, a resident of the Crestview Heights subdivision.

The board previously tabled a decision regarding the appeal Sept. 5 while it waited for an independent, third-party cost estimate of Renergetica’s own proposed $300,000 decommissioning plan. Bierlein Company, of Midland, conducted the independent study.

Zoning Administrator Doug Piggott Wednesday revealed Bierlein’s estimate — $389,020 for total decommissioning, which includes approximately $117,000 of projected scrap credit. Taking that figure into account, Bierlein’s adjusted total cost of decommissioning was $272,000.

Under the Caledonia Township zoning ordinance’s section on solar farms, an applicant for a solar development is responsible for identifying the cost of decommissioning. In addition, a bond equal to that decommissioning cost, plus 25 percent, is required prior to beginning construction. Based on Bierlein’s estimate, that would set the decommissioning bond at about $340,000.

ZBA Vice Chairman Bill Yocum expressed concerns with including scrap value as a credit toward the cost of decommissioning.

“I don’t see anything compelling to decommissioning operators to sell the scrap, they just have to get it off the site as far as the township is concerned,” Yocum said. “Scrap prices are sort of volatile. The other costs here are things that you can look at a curve over 20 years and see where they’ve gone and then extend that curve at the same rate. I’m not as comfortable looking at the scrap value that way. One might presume that it’s going to be worth more than it is now, but you never know. There are things that go on in the world economy that cause scrap to go up or down…I’m uncomfortable with including scrap value in whatever we approve.”

After a brief discussion, board members opted to approve a decommissioning cost of $389,020, plus 25 percent, bringing the total cost of decommissioning to $486,275.

Representatives from Renergetica were not in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting, nor were any local residents. Piggott said he had discussions with Renergetica regarding Bierlein’s decommissioning estimate, but at that time, the company had the understanding that the total cost slated for approval was approximately $340,000.

“The idea was that there was this report (from Bierlein), and the report had this number, and so the number they’re going to get now is different from that,” Piggott said. “If they would’ve known that, they may have been here to argue their case.”

Piggott added that representatives from Renergetica have the right to ask the ZBA for reconsideration with respect to the decommissioning cost. He plans to reach out to the company today to inform them of the updated cost estimate.

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

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.

Prior to construction at the site, Renergetica must also receive approval from the Shiawassee Drain Commission for a drain permit, from the Shiawassee County Health Department for a soil erosion and sediment control permit, as well as 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 previously.

With the resolution of the appeal Wednesday, Renergetica now has site plan approval, according to Piggott. The company has 12 months to pull permits to begin construction, per the township ordinance. If the construction permits are not pulled within the 12-month period, Renergetica’s special use permit and site plan approval could expire, Piggott said.

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