By Kelly House, Bridge Michigan
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- Democrats passed legislation in November that gives the state power to approve wind and solar projects over local objections
- The law passed along party lines, with Republicans uniformly opposite it
- Opponents of the law hope to ask voters in November to overturn it through a ballot measure
Opponents of a new law that gives the state authority to override local rejections of large wind and solar projects have announced a ballot initiative to challenge the law.
A group called Citizens for Local Choice said Thursday it is finalizing the language of a proposed ballot petition, aiming to bring the issue before voters in November.
The group is pushing to repeal Public Act 233, which passed narrowly along party lines in November as Democrats sought a way around the bitter local fights that have stalled wind and solar developments in rural communities across the state.
Critics of the law, including Republican lawmakers and local government advocacy groups, say it tramples over Michigan’s tradition of local control over land use. To get an initiative on the November ballot, they must collect 356,958 valid signatures by May 29.
“This is not about whether renewables are appropriate or not,” said Roger Johnson, chair of the Deerfield Township Planning Commission in Lenawee County and a member of the ballot committee’s leadership team. “It’s not whether wind and solar is the answer to issues of global warming. It’s about siting. And Michigan’s tradition has been that villages, cities, townships…deal with land use.”
Public Act 233 passed as part of a broader suite of energy bills to steer the state more quickly toward renewable energy. It creates a statewide permitting system for large-scale wind, solar and energy storage projects, which previously were vetted by local governments. Instead, the three members of Michigan Public Service Commission, who are appointed by the governor, will have authority to approve or deny projects.
Proponents of the new law, including Democratic lawmakers, environmental and labor groups, called it a necessary step to speed up renewable energy projects amid a worldwide push to stop burning the fossil fuels that are causing climate change.
Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, and a key sponsor of the law, pushed back against the notion that rural Michiganders oppose state regulation of wind and solar. Aiyash said his office has heard from hundreds of farmers who support the legislation, saying it will protect their right to decide how to use their land.
“I’d be hard pressed to imagine that there will be a significant chunk of Michiganders that would oppose the state becoming energy independent,” Aiyash said.
Johnson said the Citizens for Local Choice committee was spawned from Our Home, Our Voice, a coalition that advocates for local control over issues from short-term rentals to renewable energy and gravel mine permitting. The group’s leadership includes Kevon Martis, a Lenawee County commissioner who is also a longtime fellow with the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a conservative think tank that opposes renewable energy and in the past has engaged in climate denial.
Proposed ballot language would need approval from the Board of State Canvassers before Citizens for Local Choice could start gathering signatures. A spokesperson said the group plans to submit language by Friday. The Board of State Canvassers would then have 30 days to review it.
If the board approves the language, backers have 180 days under the law to collect 356,958 valid signatures from registered voters — fewer if they hope to make the November ballot.
The deadline to get an initiative on this fall’s general election ballot is May 29, or 146 days from now. If they can’t meet that deadline, group spokesperson Jenell Leonard said, they’ll aim for November 2026.
If they succeeded at signature-gathering, the petition would then go to the Legislature, which would have 40 days to adopt the proposal, approve a competing proposal and send both to the November ballot, or take no action, which would send the initiative to the ballot.
Michigan’s debate over renewable energy has been highly partisan, with Republican lawmakers uniformly opposing the energy bills Democrats passed in November.
Thursday’s announcement drew applause from a host of conservative lawmakers, along with a former Democratic state representative and local public officials in several areas of the state.
“Zoning is, and should remain, a local issue,” said Rep. Dave Prestin, a Republican from Cedar River in the Upper Peninsula. “Local governments know their communities better than any unelected Lansing bureaucrat, and they especially know better than the three members of the Michigan Public Service Commission.”
Environmentalists condemned the push to overturn the law.
“We must pull together to cut greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors, everywhere,” said Christy McGillivray, political and legislative director for the Sierra Club in Michigan.
The opposition campaign, she said, is “a damaging and dangerous waste of time and resources.”
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Featured image: Amid growing tension over proposed wind and solar developments in rural communities, lawmakers in November passed legislation that allows the state to override local rejections of renewable energy developments. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)