Michigan Expands Farmland Access For Solar Projects

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., and Gary McDowell, director of Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), have announced a decision to allow land currently enrolled in the department’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program to be used for commercial solar purposes.

The Farmland and Open Space Preservation program (under Public Act 116, or PA 116) provides tax incentives to landowners who keep their land under agreements for agricultural use, but solar developers searching for farmland are having difficulty finding areas that don’t include farmland in the preservation program, according to the Whitmer administration.

“My administration understands and is committed to helping meet the growing demand for clean, renewable energy sources in our state. By preparing for and investing in renewable energy, we’re protecting our environment while diversifying revenue options for Michigan farmers and supporting economic development and job creation in a key Michigan industry,” the governor says. “We want to ensure that the placement of commercial solar panel arrays is consistent with farming operations and the purposes of PA 116, while also providing opportunities for renewable energy.”

Whitmer convened a workgroup, chaired by McDowell, of agricultural and conservation partners to look at how solar energy could be a part of the larger farmland preservation effort. The workgroup came up with a policy for allowing solar panel development for commercial use.

The policy change allows for the use of parcels of land enrolled in MDARD’s preservation program if they are part of a much larger commercial solar array. This includes maintaining the PA 116 agreement by deferring its continuation until after the solar energy agreement.

The policy also puts in place conditions that assure the land is returned to a state allowing for agriculture production practices after the solar project is removed. The landowners must sign an amended PA 116 agreement that guarantees these conditions are met.

“This administrative decision will not result in a loss of useable farmland,” notes McDowell. “The change ensures that Michigan’s farmland is preserved so we can continue to feed our communities while also balancing the need to develop renewable energy sources. This is an exciting new opportunity for Michigan’s farmers to diversify while they continue to face challenging circumstances.”

MDARD’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program is designed to preserve farmland and open space through agreements that restrict development and provide tax incentives for program participation. PA 116 enables a landowner to enter into a development rights agreement with the state. It ensures the land remains in agricultural use for a minimum of 10 years and is not developed for any non-agricultural use. In return, the landowner may be entitled to certain income tax benefits, and the land is not subject to special assessments for sanitary sewer, water, lights or non-farm drain projects.

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