Michigan Townships Association

MTA Board votes to support initiative efforts to return local zoning authority for large renewable energy facilities

MTA’s Board of Directors recently voted to support the efforts of an initiative petition that would return local control over utility-scale renewable energy facilities to Michigan’s communities.

The initiative, led by the group Citizens for Local Choice, seeks to repeal Public Act 233 of 2023—which was strongly opposed by MTA and its members as it quickly moved through the legislative process. The measure strips true local siting authority over these facilities, shifting it to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). If successful on the November ballot, the initiative would restore this critical zoning authority to Michigan’s communities for how they choose to plan and zone for clean energy.

“The Board’s support of this initiative efforts aligns with the Association’s unwavering commitment to local control and the ability of communities and residents to have the final say over local decisions—especially those that have far-reaching, long-lasting and dramatic effects in a community,” said MTA President Pauline Bennett, Addison Township (Oakland Co.) clerk. “Local officials and their residents simply should not—and cannot—be silenced over local issues impacting them, their community, their quality of life—and their future.”

The petition summary language reads:

Initiation of legislation to: amend the clean and renewable energy and energy waste reduction act by repealing statewide requirements for the construction and development of certain wind and solar energy facilities and energy storage facilities, including: assessment of environmental, natural resources, and farmland impact; wages and benefits requirements for workers; setback distance; size and height of structures; and amount of light and sound emitted. If enacted, this proposal would allow local units of government to determine their own standards for such facilities.

Signature collection is underway by Citizens for Local Choice, which must collect a minimum of 356,958 valid signatures before May 29 to place the proposal on the November 2024 ballot. To learn more, visit the Citizens for Local Choice website.

The new law is not only an attack on local authority, it also runs counter to public sentiments. According to an MTA-commissioned poll, the vast majority of Michiganders—more than 87%—agree that permitting for utility-scale renewable energy should remain at the local level. PA 233 requires all local ordinances to be no stricter than one-size-fits-all, prescribed statewide standards in order for a developer to go through the local approval process. Final decision-making over these facilities lies not with the impacted community, but rather with the MPSC—an appointed, rate-setting, regulatory commission with no experience in local planning and zoning issues.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Act limits how a public body can use public funds or property when it comes to campaigning for ballot questions or candidates. MTA offers guidance in our factsheets and website, including:

In addition, according to MTA Legal Counsel, private individuals may circulate petitions freely in public parks or on public sidewalks, as these are traditional public forums protected by the First Amendment. Private individuals may also circulate petitions inside of municipal buildings (like the township hall), but ONLY if the township permits such conduct by policy or practice. A township that has a policy (either written or informal) permitting circulation indoors, must allow ANY AND ALL members of the public to do so, regardless of the subject matter of the petition. If a township has not adopted a policy permitting circulation, or has adopted a policy or ordinance expressly banning circulation within municipal buildings, then such conduct is generally prohibited, and private individuals can be asked to cease circulation or take their petition outdoors.

MTA advises members to consult their township legal counsel with questions.