The Huron County Board of Commissioners took the first step in temporarily banning solar energy development in county-zoned municipalities on Tuesday.
The board unanimously voted to send a moratorium on solar energy development to the Huron County Planning Commission for review.
The county currently has no language in its zoning ordinance to regulate commercial solar energy operations.
If approved by the planners and the board, the moratorium would be in effect for “one year or until the commercial solar energy system regulations are adopted in the county’s zoning ordinance,” according to the amendment.
County officials say that some local landowners have signed leases with Cypress Creek Renewables of Arizona to receive up to $800 an acre to house solar farms on 30-acre parcels of farmland for 20 years.
That’s more than farmers could earn from agriculture.
However, the land used for solar farms would not remain eligible for the state’s farmland preservation program under Public Act 116, said Rich Harlow, program manager for the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, in a recent interview.
Huron County ranks No. 1 in Michigan for acreage enrolled in PA 116 with 343,352 acres enrolled. The state has 3.3 million acres enrolled, Harlow said, which means Huron County accounts for more than 10 percent of the state’s total PA 116 acreage.
The proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance calling for the moratorium states that 75.4 percent of Huron County’s farmland is enrolled in PA 116.
In order to release land from PA 116, the property would have to be rezoned from agricultural use to commercial and/or industrial usage.
If a farm is converted to solar, farmers would lose tax credits dating back seven years, Harlow told the Tribune.
Farmers would also have to put a percentage of the farm on a permanent conservation easement if the PA 116 rezoning were recent. If 30 acres of a 100-acre farm were set aside for solar, 60 acres would have to be put on a permanent conservation easement, Harlow said.
The ordinance amendment that imposes the moratorium states that Spicer Group of Saginaw will work solar energy development into the Huron County Master Plan, which is currently under revision.
The planners must return the resolution to the board by May 23.
County-zoned municipalities are: Bingham, Bloomfield, Brookfield, Dwight, Fairhaven, Gore, Grant, Hume, Lincoln, McKinley, Rubicon, Sebewaing, Sheridan, Sherman, Sigel and Winsor townships.