By Scott Nunn | firstname.lastname@example.org
Solar panels that look like these could potentially be seen at two sites in Ogemaw County.
WEST BRANCH — The Ogemaw County Planning Commission will be hosting a public meeting May 22 to consider a special use permit for the proposed development of two solar farms. Renergetica USA Corporation is looking to build two solar farms, a 17-acre facility in Ogemaw Township and a 22-acre facility in Churchill Township.
If approved, the solar farms each would generate 2 megawatts of alternating current, which Renergetica Vice President of Development Justin Vandenbroeck said is enough to power approximately 520 homes. Vandenbroeck said Renergetica is contracted with Consumers Energy, which is planning to increase its renewable energy supply by 400 percent by 2030. However, Consumers Energy officials clarified May 13 that the company is not under contract. The company locates the properties it leases by taking its extensive utility grid mapping and overlaying it on various geographic information systems. Vandenbroeck said this allows Renergetica to locate parcels near the electric substations and clear of wetlands and floodplains, factors which are important for solar farming.
Vandenbroeck said Renergetica currently has 30 projects similar to the ones proposed in Ogemaw County in development in the state. According to county Zoning Administrator Ryan Veeder, the facilities must meet the requirements of the county’s zoning ordinance, which specifies construction distance from property boundaries, a minimum size on parcels to be developed and limitations on handling native vegetation on developed parcels. Vandenbroeck said his company maintains its own guidelines - such as shrubbery around its fencing - to minimize the impact on neighbors.
“We always do buffering,” Vandenbroeck said. “It is a courtesy. Most people would prefer to have the solar array concealed. As a good neighbor, you want to provide some buffering to give the project some privacy and protect the view for neighbors.” According to Renergetica’s plans, the solar collector system will be screened from residential dwellings with deciduous trees and shrubs, and the company will maintain the native vegetation on the parcels until the sites are decommissioned. Vandenbroeck said one of the benefits of the solar farms is hands-off, remote operation with little requirements for staff to be on premises. For the maintenance of the grounds Vandenbroeck said Renergetica will typically contract with a local company.
“It operates fairly autonomously and very remotely,” he said. Vandenbroeck said unlike windmills, solar farms are virtually silent in operation and, coupled with his company’s approach to fencing, buffer plants and sensitive approach to light pollution, neighbors are very happy. He also said solar does not interfere with migratory bird patterns. The solar panels the company uses absorb nearly all of the sunlight that hits them.
“The solar panels have an anti-reflective coating inside the glass,” Vandenbroeck said. “Only about 2 percent of the light that hits the solar panel is reflected. Because they have a tracker system, the panel will face the sun and what does reflect, reflects directly at the sun.”
Another aspect of the zoning ordinance is it requires that in the event of abandonment of a farm, the owner or operator remove the installation within 150 days of abandonment, providing a financial surety in the form of a bond or escrow to cover up to 125 percent of the cost of removal.
Vandenbroeck said the solar farms will also generate additional taxes for the local taxing authorities, explaining that solar farms are typically labeled as industrial and consequently are taxed at 50 percent of the value of the equipment.
“We have the same millage rate as an industrial facility,” he said.
Vandenbroeck estimated the Ogemaw Township facility would pay approximately $30,000 in taxes in its first year, while the Churchill Township facility would pay approximately $25,500. The commission will be meeting May 22 at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ chambers. Renergetica USA will be hosting an informational meeting in the chambers that is open to the public from 4-6 p.m. on the same day to answer any questions.
Vandenbroeck said he hopes anyone with questions related to the solar farms will attend the informational meeting or reach out to the company at email@example.com.