Mixed Feelings & Lots Of Information At White Tail Public Hearing

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The White Tail Project did not move forward at the York Township Planning Commission meeting, Monday evening, as it was tabled until later this month. But there was a healthy number of divided opinions on whether the project should move forward.

So many people showed up at York Township’s public hearing for the White Tail solar project that the Planning Commission set up a tent outside the back of York Township Hall. The chairs in the ten were socially distanced, just like the main meeting room, with speakers in the first shift of speakers moving from the hall to the tent once they had finished speaking.

“[I] brought two resolutions, an approval one and a denial one. I don’t’ think we’re at either of them yet,” Planning Commission Chair Richard Cupka said.

Ranger Power is applying to build about a third of its utility-scale solar power plant for DTE Energy in York Township and two thirds in Augusta Township. The Chicago-based developer will need to get approval from both townships in order to proceed with construction.

Ranger Power’s proposal to invest $130 million in eight parcels to create a 120 megawatt, utility scale solar farm would be taken over by DTE Energy. About 40 percent of the project would be in York Township and 60 percent would be in neighboring Augusta Township, which is also in the middle of the process of considering whether to approve or deny the project.

A map of where the proposed project would go, with Augusta's portion in yellow and York's in green. Image credit: York Township & Ranger Power

The applicant says that they would produce about 150 construction jobs if the project is approved and that it would not harm the farmland or neighboring properties. But at least seven people weren’t convinced that the land was appropriate for the solar farm and were not at all satisfied that the proposed “screen” of evergreen trees would keep them from seeing what many called an eye sore next to their property.

“To me this doesn’t fit,” resident Ronald Kline said, adding that if the project goes forward, “I’m going to be surrounded by this” as Kline said the project would border his property on three sides.

Matthew Spence, a potential neighbor to the property, said that the project doesn't correspond with the township’s ordinances, and isn’t swayed by Ranger’s promises of what the project would bring. As well as being an alternative to fossil fuels, Ranger’s model is intended to help rural communities by leasing land from small scale farmers, providing them with a stable bedrock of income in the face of commodities markets that go up and down, as well as the effects of climate change. 

Matthew Spence

“Farmers can choose to farm whatever they want to farm. They have their rights. I don’t have any problem with them choosing to do it, but we have rights too. We have ordinances for a reason and they are trying to circumvent the ordinances,” Matthew Spence said.

But that’s not to say that the proposal didn’t have any supporters at the meeting. At least four people spoke in support of the project, including Laura Beraducci, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Ann Arbor Spark, a business group that promotes investment and job creation in the greater Ann Arbor area. Beraducci is a York Township resident. 

"It was a source of pride to learn that my colleagues were contributing to a project just a stone’s throw away from where I live,” Beraducci said. She also told the Commission “This project is an opportunity for York Township to generate tax revenue that can be reinvested here. On a grander scale, our community gets to be part of a lasting investment in climate health.”

Another supporter was Lapeer County’s Brenden Miller, who came to speak on behalf of the Land and Liberty Coalition. Land and Liberty is a Midwest-based conservative organization, who support green energy and tackling climate change, from a conservative point of view by emphasizing property rights and providing a conservative alternative to the left-wing models that often dominate the climate conversation.

Miller said that if White Tail is finished, the panels would be normalized very quickly. Miller echoed Ranger’s argument regarding the problem of the new generations not wanting to continue family farms because of a lack or difficulty of making a profit as a farmer, and the resulting sale to developers could be mitigated by leasing land to solar companies.

Brenden Miller

“I understand that some people might think its an eye sore, but at the same time someone could come and say ‘Well, I think that corn is an eye sore,’” Miller told the Sun Times News after the meeting. Comparing it to other agricultural uses, like grazing cows, Miller pointed out “Cows are loud, smelly and they’re certainly more intrusive than solar panels. …. But I wouldn’t tell that farmer ‘I don’t want you to have cows grazing behind my house’ because, it’s his land, let him [the land owners] do what he wants.”

What officials on the planning commission want is more detailed answers and clarification before they take the subject up at their next meeting in two weeks. The commission is asking for more detailed calculations on the dimensions of the project, and what it would look like to create a higher and more robust screen of evergreen trees, like some members of the public asked for; and how a more substantial screen would affect water runoff and soil quality.

They also asked for a plan to specify the days and times that the year-long construction process could work, a proposal to remove and dispose of broken panels, a breakdown on the materials used in the panels, and a plan on how to remove the decades-long project at the end that didn’t cost the township or residents anything. They also asked for documentation on the vibration, radioactivity and possibility of electronic interference, all problems Ranger insists will not be a problem.

Ranger is planning on introducing deer fencing to satisfy a safety requirement to keep the plant safe from the outside. Trustee John Hargrove asked for them to find an alternative to deer fencing.

“I’m not really a tree huger, but it is really disruptive to wildlife,” Hargrove said.

Ranger Power declined to comment to the Sun Times News after the meeting ended. But Ranger’s VP of Permitting Sergio Trevino did respond positively to the proposed changes and questions from the board. Trevino asked that the board bring their formal questions as quickly as possible, so Ranger could provide as much detail in their answers as possible.

The tent was paid for by Ranger Power in order to ensure that the township could meet social distancing rules, according to Cupka.

The tent, set up behind the council chamber.

"They suggested that they arrange and pay for a tent to accommodate the overflow that we could not handle in the building with proper social distancing as well as live stream the meeting so that those concerned about attending in person would be able to observe," Cupka told the Sun Times News via email. "I approved the tent for the meeting as well as the connections to our Township internet, but they had to cover the cost of the tent and the audio visual service for the meeting, which they offered to pay for." 

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