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Farm solar bill passes state Senate

Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet talks with reporters after session Tuesday.
Rick Pluta
Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet talks with reporters after session Tuesday.

A billto support solar power production on farmland made it out of the Michigan Senate Tuesday.

The bill would codify a state policy that lets farm owners use their land for solar energy generation under development rights agreements with the state.

Those allow farmers to claim tax credits in exchange for keeping their land in agricultural production.

The policy wouldn't let landowners get those tax breaks while using their land for solar arrays -- but the owners would still be covered by the state's agricultural tax policy, and they could get the tax breaks again by reverting their land to agricultural production.

But Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said solar projects shouldn't count as agricultural use of land under the state's Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program.

"Ultimately, we're taking farmland out of production. We're taking it out for maybe a hundred years. And then providing almost no penalty at the end of those long contracts for having done so," McBroom said.

Senator Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) sponsored the legislation. She said the arrangement helps farmers who want to keep their land in their family but don't necessarily have children who want to carry on the work.

"If you put solar on your farmland, it provides a really substantial income stream for our family farms. A lot of them don't want to do that. But the ones that do should have the option. It's their property and it also protects this heritage land for future generations," McDonald Rivet told reporters.

This is the first part of Senate Democrats' renewable energy plan to pass the state Senate. It did so by a 23-14 vote, with three Republicans crossing the aisle to support McDonald Rivet's bill.

Other parts of the package, as written, would set a 100% renewable energy standard by 2035, though sponsors say they plan on pushing that back to 2040.

Those bills, however, are still in committee while sponsors work through various drafts.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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