Solar panels generate income in rural America. They don’t always make friends.


Why We Wrote This But here in Shiawassee County, the attitude of many residents is summed up in the message on signs planted near their alleys: “NO solar farms”.

“They’re ugly,” says Jim Sheridan, who lives across from part of the new project.

The boom in renewable energies promises economic gains for rural America. But that doesn’t mean that everyone welcomes the change. We visit a county in Michigan where active opposition has grown.

Beyond aesthetics, some locals say climate concerns are overblown and solar power is still a tenuous and expensive technology, despite its widespread feasibility. Others lament that the new project will provide its electricity outside the immediate region.

The turmoil here symbolizes an emerging tension in rural America between tackling climate change – a goal most American citizens support – and age-old “not in my garden” trends rooted in land use traditions of long time.

Ray Gallagher, an elevator installer whose rented farm is almost entirely surrounded by solar panels, is part of a younger generation who are less critical of change.

“This is Shiawassee County,” says Gallagher. “Old farmers – they don’t like change. But times are changing. “

Before the end of the year, a colossal 1,800-acre solar farm will begin supplying its full flow of electricity from farm fields west of Flint, Michigan. It is by far the largest solar installation in the state and a key part of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s goal to decarbonize the Midwestern state’s electricity grid, which is still dominated by coal.

Township of Hazelton, Michigan.

The problem with the project: Many locals hate it.

“We’re sick of these ridiculous looking signs. We don’t like them, ”says Jim Sheridan. He lives across the street from the facility in Hazelton Township and runs his local government as a supervisor.

Why we wrote this

The boom in renewable energies promises economic gains for rural America. But that doesn’t mean that everyone welcomes the change. We visit a county in Michigan where active opposition has grown.

“First of all, they’re ugly,” he said.

In Mid-Michigan, economic development chiefs see solar panels and wind turbines as key to diversifying local economies, which rely heavily on agriculture and manufacturing. Developers, in turn, were attracted by an abundant supply of land, proximity to customers in urban centers and incentives. The area has seen a boom in renewable energy projects, and more are being planned – although community leaders vow to resist.

Earlier this year, the state’s largest single-phase wind farm began operating 55 miles northwest of Hazelton Township, despite protests from some area residents who did not want to see or hear the wind turbines. Workers are now completing the massive solar assembly project, which occupies nearly 3 square miles of land in Shiawassee County. The company behind the project – Ranger Power, based in Brooklyn, New York – says the grid will generate 239 megawatts of electricity, enough to power around 35,000 homes.

The turmoil here symbolizes an emerging tension in rural America between tackling climate change – a goal most American citizens support – and age-old “not in my backyard” trends rooted in concerns about aesthetics and design. land use traditions.

Many also doubt the talking point that the Assembly will also generate significant local tax revenues. County officials have not provided expected income figures, despite repeated requests. Ranger Power says the project will generate up to $ 25 million in property tax revenue over the next 25 years.

Most residents interviewed by the Monitor do not feel the benefits of low carbon electrical installation. Some said climate concerns were overblown and solar power was still a fragile and expensive technology, despite its widespread feasibility. Several residents were upset that the assembly project will provide electricity outside the immediate area, including the neighboring state capital, Lansing.

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