State officials announced Monday a decision to allow land currently enrolled in the Farmland and Open Space Preservation program, commonly known as PA 116, to be used for commercial solar array purposes.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer say the move will not only meet the growing demand for renewable energy sources in Michigan but diversify “revenue options for Michigan farmers.”
“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 said in a statement.
Currently, PA 116 is a law that works to preserve farmland by offering tax incentives to farmers willing to participate. The land must remain in agricultural use for a minimum of 10 years and is not developed for any non-agricultural use. Landowners can then attain some income tax benefits.
According to MDARD, there are 3.4 million acres of farmland enrolled in PA 116.
“Today’s announcement from the administration would allow commercial solar projects to be developed on land enrolled in PA 116,” said Andrew Vermeesch, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “Under this scenario, landowners would be required to amend their current PA agreement. The new contract would extend the existing agreement period for a time equal to the land being utilized for solar to ensure there is no net change in the length of the Farmland Development Rights agreement.
According to Vermeesch, the amended agreement would stipulate that the land being used for solar would have to maintain pollinator protector habit and other conservation standards.
“The amended agreement between the landowner and the state of Michigan will outline all responsibilities to the landowner,” he said. “Therefore, it is the landowner’s responsibilities to ensure that all additional requirements outlined in the agreement and identified as the responsibility of the solar project company should be addressed in the agreement between the solar project company and the landowner.”
Similarly, Matt Kapp said it’s important for landowners to negotiate a commercial solar agreement that “makes sense for their farming operation, protects them and ensures their rights.”
“All contracts are negotiable, and we strongly recommend farmers to consult an attorney before entering an agreement with an energy company to place commercial solar on their farmland,” said Kapp, government relations specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Some other conditions required for PA 116 include tax credits not being claimed during the deferment period and the site returning to agricultural use at the end of the deferment period. Landowners must sign an amended PA 116 agreement that guarantees these conditions are met. To see the full administrative conditions, visit www.michigan.gov/farmland.
One company already planning several solar projects in Michigan is Ranger Power, a Brooklyn, New York company.
“This administrative decision will not result in a loss of useable farmland,” MDARD Director Gary McDowell said in a statement. “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.”
For more information about solar development on PA 116 land or Farmland Preservation Program, visit www.michigan.gov/farmland or contact Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program Manager Rich Harlow at 517-284-5663.