SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, MI -- A development company is proposing the construction of a massive solar farm covering 1,200 acres in two townships that border western Genesee County.
Representatives of Ranger Power said Tuesday, Oct. 16, that they have lease agreements or purchase options for the contiguous, mostly farm and vacant land in Hazelton and Venice townships, and expect to request a special use permit to allow for the $250-million project by the end of this year.
The two Shiawasee townships abut Genesee County's Flushing and Clayton townships, separated by the county line, state road M-13.
Ranger projects the solar farm would result in a $250 million investment in the county, $16 million in construction spending, 321 jobs during construction in the county and $3.2 million in increased household earnings for property owners.
"I think that a solar project makes a great neighbor... kind of a silent neighbor," said Sean Harris, development manager for Ranger. It's providing tax revenue but "not tapping into local resources."
The company said the 1,200 acres represent the total footprint of the project and although hundreds of thousands of solar panels would used, wetlands and trees, for example, would be undisturbed.
A more formal announcement of the project is expected to be made Wednesday, Oct. 17.
Ranger is a relatively new limited liability corporation but its executives have experience in developing other projects in the Midwest, said Harris and Sergio Trevino, director of permitting at Ranger.
Trevino said the demand for renewable energy is growing in the region with companies like Consumers Energy and DTE committed to using an increasing percentage of alternative energy sources.
Construction on the project here could begin by the end of 2019 and the solar farm could be online by 2020, officials said.
Despite the vast size of the proposed solar farm, Trevino said the impact of the project would not be intrusive because of restrictions on the height of panels, setback requirements and plans to buffer inverters, which are used to transfer energy to substations and which would otherwise create a humming noise.
"Most people will not hear anything that's louder than the ambient sound that's around us," he said.
The project is supported by the staff at the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership, president and chief executive officer Justin Horvath said.
Ranger officials said they've also talked with potential neighbors and officials from the county and Hazelton and Venice townships about their plans.
"With our organization's mission of growing the local economy, we are encouraged by the interest in solar development," Horvath said in a statement issued by the developers.
Ranger's Web site says the solar industry has experienced incredible growth in recent years, creating thousands of jobs across the country and contributing millions of dollars in new tax revenue and investment.
"Solar can be sited on private property close to energy demand, minimizing the amount of costly transmission infrastructure that must be built to supply clean power to populated areas," the Web site says.
In agricultural areas like Hazelton and Venice, local farmers can use solar leases to diversify their income, combining lease payments with traditional agricultural production.
Land used for a solar farm also preserves the property for the future farming, officials said.
After leases expire, all equipment is removed and the land will be restored to its condition prior to the construction of the solar farm, including the replacement of prime soils and topsoil, Ranger's Web site says.