My name is Mark Sak and my wife, Shannon, and I have lived at our Brown City Road home in Imlay City for 25 years. I grew up on a dairy farm my parents Ted and Barbara Sak purchased at 8150 Norman Road in 1957. The land we now live on has been in our family for 72 years. We truly love every day at our home and, of course, we have many wonderful memories over the years. We will be one of the residential homes that will have solar panels on all four sides of our residence if the Orion Renewable Energy Group’s proposal is approved.

First, I believe very few people are against solar including us. We understand it is inevitable. What we stand against is an incredibly horrible plan for this project. As solar technology evolves, we will see solar field planning evolve. We will see many more efficient ways of placing panels. There are several major issues that this commercial solar company has not taken into consideration, and Goodland Township and the residents on the east side will suffer the consequences of this poor planning forever.

According to Orion Renewables’ website the plan states this is a 25-year project but reading lease agreements, the company has the option to extend it and, from what we understand, the landowners have no say once the initial lease is signed. It will be very difficult to return this land to farmland as the decommissioning details reportedly will only deal with above ground equipment and not underground lines. There is only a $2 million dollar fund set up for decommissioning and cleanup—a mere drop in the bucket 25 years from now.

Orion’s complaint resolution process is a joke. Orion Renewables states Orion and Orion alone will determine if the complaint is “frivolous.” It sounds like we are in Russia.

It is also important to know and understand Goodland Township’s Master Plan for the last 50 years. Its plan during the last half-century overall has been residential and agricultural use exclusively. Farmland preservation. Many commercial and industrial projects were stopped by this master plan including a marijuana facility proposed only two short years ago. Many residents currently have lived here because of that master plan including us. It is quiet country. We watch the deer, turkey, pheasants, and songbirds every day.

A special land use permit, which is being utilized in this project, is basically a way for any company or applicant to avoid saying “this is an industrial or commercial project.” Special land use permits are actually designed to provide small spot changes to zoning which, “benefit the harmony of the surrounding areas in the township.” This industrial project is monstrous. It is one of the largest solar projects east of the Mississippi River. It far exceeds the parameters a special land use permit was ever meant to do and is not at all harmonious to Goodland Township. If any other company came in to say they are building an industrial/commercial project in six different sections of the township, in the first phase of development, what chance would it have at approval? Our history tells us none would get approved. This company is now already eyeing neighboring townships to expand and connect to this project.

There are several concerns we have going into the approval process. The company from Oakland, California is already presenting information in a way that minimizes impact stating, “They will only be developing 826 acres of the 1,713 under lease.” Do the math and this relates to paying an additional amount of approximately $887,000 dollars every year depending on each individual lease agreement, for land they have not developed for commercial solar for the next 25 years. That is over $22 million dollars. Are we so naïve to think those parcels will not be developed in some way after this permit is issued? This should be a huge red flag to both landowners and neighboring residents. Do we know if they would stack junk panels taken out of service on these parcels or park equipment? Obviously, they can do whatever they want. We are giving the fox the key to the hen house. This is not an honest approach to the approval process and the residents of Goodland Township have already completely lost trust in Orion Renewables.

One more extremely important factor that clearly exhibits this project’s lack of research on the placement of this commercial solar project is in their haste to get leases signed from 13 landowners, including some who do not live in the township, they failed to recognize that a large part of this solar complex is being placed right next to the Imlay muck fields that run north and south all along the proposed project. Anyone that has actually lived in this area understands this important detrimental issue to solar panels. We know the area is prone to muck blowing during drier portions of the year. During a windstorm, one can see the black organic peat blowing for miles and even black dirt drifts piling up across Bowers Road. A simple Google search on what can damage solar panels shows that blowing dirt is listed right behind hail and falling debris. This project is being built a mere half-mile due east of an Imlay muck field complex. It is exactly in an area that solar panels would be covered by muck throughout the planting season every time the wind blows. They will need to clean these panels on a weekly basis to keep them performing properly. According to the Michigan Public Service Commission, solar panels only achieve 13% of their peak capacity in Michigan due to our weather and climate. Compound this with panels placed here and being covered in muck and we have a real mess right from the start of the project.

There are members of the Planning Commission and Township Board that have signed up to lease their land. This conflict of interest is another huge red flag as they could have a great deal of influence over fellow board members. We obviously need a referendum so residents can vote on this project.

—Mark Sak,
Goodland Township