(Courtesy Photo)

   Rex Wheeler, who resides northeast of New Lothrop, has announced a campaign to prevent a second Ranger Power solar farm from being constructed in the New Lothrop/Flushing/Montrose area. Wheeler shared he is completely devoted to supporting his community and to educate his friends and neighbors on Ranger Power. He is concerned further expansion of the solar farm could de-value home property – and he wants people to be informed. Recognizing his campaign is constructed around his own opinions, it is his fervent desire that area homeowners will step-up and pay attention to the possibility of losing value on their homes.

   Wheeler, who is also a highly successful business owner, though he is doing this of his own personal accord, has ordered 1,000 yard signs. Three-hundred yard signs have already been distributed. He also has six large-scale billboard signs on trucks, and plans on taking his message to television and other media sources. His messaging is simple – “No Solar Farms.”

   “I want to raise awareness. In my opinion, this will hurt home values,” Wheeler shared. “I want this to be community based and want everyone to become involved. I’m a community guy. I care about this community and I’m concerned about properties. There are families that worked their entire lives to take care of and pay for their homes. I have huge concerns that their home values will drop if this solar farm is developed.”

   According to Wheeler, he has been communicating with Ranger Power to convince them to go elsewhere, but he is now compelled to be public about his effort to prevent another solar farm.

   Ranger Power has been constructing the $250-million, roughly 1,900-acre Solar Assembly project in Hazelton and Venice townships. When completed, the project will be the largest solar farm in the state. The project involves the development of a 239-megawatt solar farm, and the first phase of the project was completed by the end of 2020, with phase two and three to be finished in late 2021. Ranger Power announced the Shiawassee County project in October 2018, and the Shiawassee County Planning Commission unanimously approved a special use permit in January 2019.

   According to Wheeler, Ranger Power has been moving forward on constructing another solar farm in the area where Shiawassee, Genesee and Saginaw counties meet. He said the proposal would include four different townships and three counties, and would be situated in a more densely populated region, effecting more homes and families.

   “They have been here offering farmers a lot of money,” Wheeler said about Ranger Power’s possible attempt at entering into more land-lease agreements. “But really, they’re not offering the local homeowner anything.” He shared that a representative from Ranger Power had offered him $1,000-per-acre to lease farmland he owns along Easton Road in Hazelton Township – to be used for a solar farm. This inspired him to begin talking with community members, including local officials, to find out where opinions fall. He has discovered that over 90-percent of people he has talked with are against the idea, and anticipates there are many more.

   Wheeler reiterated he would never take money to lease his land to the solar farm. Residents interested in connecting with Wheeler can call him at (810) 638-5909. He is looking for feedback and eager to connect the community to his campaign. He suggests people should watch for Facebook updates, too.

   Drew Vielbig, development manager at Ranger Power, offered the following: “The Assembly Solar project in Shiawassee County has been a model utility-scale solar project embraced by the local community for creating jobs, new opportunities for landowners, preserving farmland and generating tax revenue. Ranger Power is currently in the very early stages of exploring additional opportunities throughout communities in Michigan to bring clean energy and investment to those areas. Ranger Power takes a community-first approach to all our projects — building support and increasing knowledge through dialogue, education and listening to make our projects a ‘win-win.’ Solar energy projects create jobs, generate local tax revenue, promote energy independence and preserve farmland and we embrace opportunities to engage community partners and residents about our projects.” Ranger Power is a New York based company.

    Justin Horvath, president/CEO of the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership (SEDP) explained that he has known Wheeler for many years, and believes he is “an amazing entrepreneur who very much loves the area and is passionate about helping. I respect him and value our friendship dearly, so when he talks, I listen.” Horvath offered that Ranger Power’s initial Solar Assembly project in Hazelton and Venice townships did not “encounter any significant ground swell or opposition … I think the difference, and why Rex makes a very good point, is there are less people living in the area they’ve been building in. There really haven’t been any concentrated home developments.” Horvath thinks the possible expansion project that has brought Rex to the forefront of the issue is quite different.

   “The rub is when there are a lot of residents nearby,” Horvath said, emphasizing that the potential new project is separate from Solar Assembly in Shiawassee County. “Now, they would be starting to approach into an area with more populated homes.”

   Horvath is hopeful that Ranger Power and Wheeler will be able to reach a positive resolution. He shared he had witnessed Ranger Power addressing earlier concerns to residents in Venice Township.

   “We need to find a way to create harmonious relationships between developers and their neighbors. We have to be respectful of all concerns,” Horvath added. “I told Rex that in some ways this is the purest form of Democracy, because Rex is giving the people a voice and allowing them to speak.”

Local Man Offers Stance Against Possible Solar Farm Project was last modified: March 17th, 2021 by Karen Elford