Planning and zoning for solar in Michigan

The economics of solar have never been better and individuals, businesses, utilities and cooperatives are planning projects all over Michigan. Is your community ready?

Photo by Brad Neumann, MSU Extension

Photo by Brad Neumann, MSU Extension

In fall 2016, the Michigan legislature amended the Clean and Renewable Energy and Energy Waste Reduction Act (PA 295 of 2008) with passage of PA 342 of 2016 requiring electric providers to achieve a renewable energy credit portfolio of at least 15 percent by 2021. Additionally, the cost of electricity from solar has dropped by nearly 75 percent since 2009, and is expected to fall 66 percent further by 2040, by some accounts.

There is a role and responsibility for local governments in enabling installation of solar energy generation and even incentivizing its use. There are two basic mechanisms through which local governments in Michigan can accomplish this: the master plan and the zoning ordinance.

The master plan sets a community vision for the future with goals, objectives and specific policies to make that vision a reality. The community master plan is the policy document where a community would detail the path to reaching its future vision for solar energy in the jurisdiction. The master plan accomplishes this by taking account of the solar resource in the community and, more importantly, assessing the areas of the community that are most appropriate for solar energy development. For instance, utility-scale solar energy development may not be appropriate in productive agricultural areas. Instead, the planning process should include analysis to identify those ‘marginal lands’ that have fewer competing land uses where solar might be more appropriate.

With the vision, goals and policies established in the master plan through broad public engagement, it is the zoning ordinance (and possibly other development regulations) that sets the legal standards (and possibly incentives) for public and private entities when siting and building solar energy systems.

Michigan local governments are seeing increased activity among solar energy developers exploring options for solar energy generation and many communities need to start the planning process to ready their jurisdiction.

Michigan State University Extension developed a training program for local government officials on planning and zoning for solar energy. The program is an opportunity for local government officials to learn about steps and considerations for planning and zoning for solar energy development.

The program will cover:
  • The context of solar energy development, including the new Michigan law and the state of the industry.
  • Introduction to types/scales of solar, including Michigan examples.
  • Local government planning approaches for solar, with emphasis on planning for marginal lands first.
  • Zoning tools and techniques for solar, including siting and feasibility concerns.

The program is scheduled at seven separate locations statewide this fall: Nov. 8 - Traverse City, East Lansing and Caro; Nov. 13 - Escanaba, Hancock, Sault Ste. Marie and Vicksburg.

For more information and to register, visit https://events.anr.msu.edu/planningsolar

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