Farmers divided over $100 million Lapeer County solar complex plan

The battle over plans to build a massive solar farm in rural Lapeer County is drawing divisions among the farmers that own the land

To some, the prospect of a 100 megawatt plan for solar panels would mean income for leased land. But for others, it would just be "unsightly." 

"As a farmer it goes against what we're trying to do - we're trying to save farmland," said Mark Farley, a sheep farmer in Goodland Township, where the solar farm would be built if approved.

Farley is part of the group against the solar power plan. Others worry it's not the best use for the rural land.

"It doesn't need to go on agriculture land which feeds Michigan, it feeds the United States, and it feeds other countries abroad," said Jeff Sklar.

But for farmer Jeff Siegler, clean energy pulled from the sun isn't a bad way to use the land.

"There's a big difference when you farm full-time or if you were just to dillydally around in it," the dairy farmer said. "It's renewable energy, you can harvest the sun, harnessed the wind. On a day like today all this renewable energy will be coming in."

It's been a good week for solar power proponents considering how sunny the weather has been. Michigan isn't always blessed with so much shine and the overcast that blankets the state during much of the year has often been used as an argument against installing panels. 

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But high energy costs and concerns over fossil fuels have continued to push the argument that other energy options would benefit customers in Michigan.

Enter: Orion Renewable Energy Group, a California-based company that says its solar farm project would bring $100 million in private investment to the state and 200 jobs that would benefit Lapeer County and Goodland Township.

Those that have taken a side in the debate have made their feelings known with signs reading "Stop Solar" and "Support Renewable Energy."

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For those that would lease land for the project, they'd be paid about $1,000 an acre for 25 years.

The township must vote to approve the project. A meeting presenting the project is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Knights of Columbus center in Imlay City, just south of the township.