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An Update on Michigan’s New Renewable Energy Laws

Michigan Senate Passes Bills that Would Mandate 100 Percent Clean Energy by 2040 and Shift Renewable Energy Project Approval to State Regulators

Michigan, historically known for its industrial prowess and reliance on fossil fuels, took a big step forward to a more renewable-energy-focused future. The recent approval of a comprehensive clean energy legislative package by the Michigan Senate signals a significant shift in its approach to energy production and environmental stewardship. This development has big implications for the energy industry, particularly for renewable energy initiatives. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the new legislation is that it would allow state regulators to override local decisions about where to allow large-scale wind and solar arrays.

Summary of the Legislation

The Michigan Senate’s approval of this clean energy legislation, which narrowly passed through both chambers of the Statehouse, has the potential to significantly transform the state’s energy policy.

The heart of this climate package, Dubbed the Clean Energy Future Plan and expected to be signed into law by Governor Whitmer, is its ambitious goal: Michigan is mandated to generate all its electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2040. Specifically, Michigan utilities will be required to acquire15 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources through 2029, and then increase the amount of electricity from renewables to 50 percent by 2030, 60 percent by 2035, and 100 percent by 2040.

The legislation also introduces stricter energy efficiency requirements for electric utilities. It expands public participation by allowing more residents to engage in rooftop solar energy programs. And it streamlines the permitting process for new wind and solar power installations—a measure that has generated significant controversy and opposition.

Shifting from Local to State Approval

Historically, many townships in Michigan have opposed proposed solar fields and wind farms, often citing aesthetic concerns. This local resistance has been identified as a major roadblock in the rapid expansion of the state’s renewable energy generation capabilities. To overcome these challenges, the new bills empower state regulators, specifically the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), to assume control over the permitting and zoning of utility-scale renewable projects with a capacity of 100 megawatts or more.

This state-level control is viewed, by proponents of the legislation, as a critical measure to counteract the influence of misinformation and high-pressure tactics that have hindered renewable energy initiatives at the local level.

Under the new legislation, local governments will lose their permitting and zoning authority for these large-scale renewable projects. The MPSC will now determine where these installations are constructed. This transfer of authority is seen as a necessary step not only to meet the state’s renewable power generation targets but also to align the oversight of renewable energy infrastructure with other types of energy infrastructure like power transmission lines and oil and gas pipelines.

To facilitate a smoother transition, a recent amendment to the legislation allows for a four- to eight-month period where developers can collaborate with local officials before the state assumes control. However, during this period, local authorities cannot impose restrictions on projects that are stricter than state rules.

The shift has sparked a heated debate. Proponents, including renewable energy developers and property owners who support these projects on their land, argue that state control is essential for the rapid development of renewable energy. In contrast, Republicans and local government officials, particularly from township and county associations, oppose the bills, seeing them as a subversion of local governance.

Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman Dan Scripps has described the bills as a “necessary shift” in the siting of renewable energy infrastructure. The MPSC, according to Scripps, will take into consideration factors such as existing local land use and impacts on prime farmland, ensuring a balanced approach to the development of renewable energy projects across Michigan.

Enhanced Opportunities for Renewable Energy Developers and Property Owners

For renewable energy developers, this legislative shift represents a substantial opportunity. The state-level approval process, managed by the MPSC, is expected to streamline and expedite the development of large-scale wind, solar, and energy storage projects. By centralizing the approval process, developers can anticipate a more predictable and efficient pathway for project approval, minimizing delays often encountered at the local level due to varying regulations and opposition. State-level approval processes should also benefit property owners interested in hosting renewable energy projects on their land. Previously, local opposition could halt or significantly delay projects, even if property owners were in favor.

Ultimately, the transfer of permitting and zoning authority to the MPSC aligns with Michigan’s broader strategy to rapidly expand its renewable energy capabilities. This approach not only aids in meeting the state’s environmental targets but also signals to investors and developers that Michigan is committed to fostering a robust renewable energy sector. For property owners and developers, this translates into a more conducive environment for the growth of renewable energy projects, albeit with the need for continued engagement with local communities to ensure a harmonious transition.

If you have any questions about land use, zoning, or community advocacy for renewable energy projects in Michigan, please contact attorneys Zana Tomich or Larry Opalewski.

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