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Solar power ad hoc group named

ESCANABA TOWNSHIP — The Escanaba Township Planning Commission has made nine appointments to an ad hoc committee that will focus on the future of solar power in the township. The appointments were made during a meeting of the commission Monday.

“I envisioned having four people who were basically squeamish about solar energy, and four people who were pro-solar energy, and one person who was non-committed,” Planning Commission Chair Jack Penegor said of the committee during the meeting.

One of the ad hoc committee’s neutral members will be Penegor himself. Planning commission members voted for Penegor to represent the commission on the committee.

Seventeen applications to serve on the ad hoc committee were reviewed by the planning commission Monday. Applicants who were in attendance at the meeting participated in brief interviews, as well.

Planning commission members voted in favor of selecting the following applicants to serve on the ad hoc committee:

– Lawrence Klope; professional agricultural engineer; neutral on large-scale solar development in Escanaba Township

– Brett French; vice-president of business development and communications for Upper Peninsula Power Company; for large-scale solar development in the township

– Lori Tourangeau; local landowner set to be involved with Orion Renewable Energy Group’s proposed Escanaba Township solar farm; for large-scale solar development in the township

– Dennis Bittner; professional engineer with Bittner Engineering; against large-scale solar development in the township

– A representative of Orion Renewable Energy Group; the company seeking to develop a solar energy farm in Escanaba Township; for large-scale solar development in the township

– Glendon Brown; former vice-president of production technology for Mead Corporation’s Publishing Paper Division and a member of the Electric Advisory Committee for the City of Escanaba Electric Department for over 20 years; for large-scale solar development in the township

– Kelly Levely; company safety manager for TriMedia Environmental and Engineering; against large-scale solar development in the township

– Linda Howlett; former chief planner at the CUPPAD Regional Commission; “leaning towards opposing” large-scale solar development in the township

Orion’s application to serve on the ad hoc committee was controversial amongst attendees of Monday’s meeting, particularly due to the possibility that different representatives of the company could attend ad hoc committee meetings. However, Penegor said he felt Orion should be represented on the committee.

“They have a stake in this project,” he said.

A mission statement for the ad hoc committee was also approved by the planning commission during Tuesday’s meeting. According to the statement, the committee’s mission will be to explore and provide a report and recommendations to the planning commission on a proposed amendment to the township’s zoning ordinance dealing with solar power, as well as a related special land use application to operate an industrial solar farm or farms in the township.

Additionally, the statement lists some solar power-related issues the planning commission feels need to be independently analyzed. One of the issues listed in the original version of the statement — namely, existing E. coli contamination in the area — was the topic of some public discussion during the meeting.

“What about any other toxic chemicals or anything else?,” Deb Maulding said.

The planning commission agreed to change this part of the mission statement to reflect other sources of groundwater contamination in the township.

Other issues the ad hoc committee is expected to investigate include the loss of farmland as a result of Orion’s proposed solar project, security for the removal of solar farm improvements at the end of the project’s useful lifespan, aesthetic concerns, financial impacts, the project’s effects on wildlife and fire hazards related to the project.

After the appointments were made, some community members voiced concerns related to this process. Vicki Gobert expressed disappointment that Frank Chenier — who had spent 20 years working as the Upper Peninsula’s district groundwater geologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources — was not chosen to serve on the committee.

“My gosh — what the heck is the matter with youse?,” she said.

The ad hoc committee will begin meeting in the near future, with Penegor set to begin the process of scheduling meetings today. It will aim to have its reports on issues related to large-scale solar development ready within 90 days.

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