Whitmer and Michigan Department of Agriculture to develop solar panels on Michigan farmland

Administrative decision balances farmland preservation with renewable energy

By Samantha Small - Web Producer
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Early this morning, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Gary McDowell announced a plan to develop commercial solar panels on land allotted to the department's Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program. 

The Farmland and Open Space Preservation program distributes tax incentives to landowners who sign PA 116 agreements, stating the designated land will only be used for agricultural purposes. With over 3.4 million acres of farmland enrolled in the program, solar panel developers are struggling to find open areas not bound to the preservation program. 

Whitmer stressed the importance of renewable energy, suggesting the panels could be part of a larger farmland preservation effort.

"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," Whitmer said. “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 work group, chaired by McDowell, with agricultural and conservation partners to draft amendments to PA 116 in order to include potential developments regarding commercialized solar panels. 

The landowners must sign the amended PA 116 that allows land enrolled the preservation program to be used for commercial solar array. This includes maintaining the PA 116 agreement by deferring its continuation until after the solar energy agreement. 

In addition, the new agreement includes conditions assure the preserved land is returned to the owner for agriculture production after the panels, wiring and other mechanisms are removed. 

McDowell is optimistic this program will create a balance between farmland preservation and renewable energy demands.

"This administrative decision will not result in a loss of usable farmland,” McDowell said. “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.”

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