MONTAGUE TWP. – After two-and-a-half hours of discussion, the planning commission, last Wednesday, approved the site plan for construction of a proposed solar farm on Dennis and Gail Sikkenga’s Windy Acres Farm, 9691 Sikkenga Rd.
By approving the site plan review California based solar company Cypress Creek Renewables can now sign a power purchase agreement with Consumers Energy. This agreement will allow Cypress Creek Renewables to sell the electricity generated by the panels to Consumers Energy.
The site plan review was originally scheduled to happen in early August, but was delayed when residents spoke up about not receiving notice about the project, and the application was received later than expected. Two meetings were then scheduled to allow for public comment and to vote on the site plan. The first of these meetings was on Tuesday, Aug. 27, and residents by this point seemed more receptive to the proposed solar farm.
The second was last Wednesday, Sept. 4. At the start of the meeting Chairman Dave Francis said Cypress Creek Renewables submitted all the required material for the site plan review, but there were a few things the commission wanted to go into more detail with before approving.
Project developer Dewey Klurfield said he submitted his application document in the early part of August. He said what has been submitted has been changed based on requests made at previous meetings.
“It is not that different. There are no gimmicks or bells or whistles hidden in there (site plan review). Everything that I’ve said in the meetings is in there,” said Klurfield.
“There have been some changes as a result of the two public meetings we’ve had most recently that we’re not reflected in that application document, because they’ve been changed to address concerns.”
Francis said that those revisions included a change to the plans for the vegetative buffer and fencing. Both the vegetative buffer and the fencing were discussed at length during the meeting.
The proposed evergreen tree buffer wasn’t looked upon as being a favorable solution for masking certain portions of the fence that will be built around the solar farm.
One resident said she would like the viewscape to be an exemplary example of what can be done with a solar panel project, and would like it to be something to be proud of.
Francis, who owns Montague Tree Farm, advised against the use of evergreen trees on the Sikkenga Road portion of the fence. He said trees could grow beyond 15-feet, and suggested juniper plants as a possible alternative.
The resident who brought up having the viewscape be exemplary requested a more random looking assortment of plants along the road.
Klurfield said Cypress Creek Renewables would be working with a landscape architecture firm somewhere in the Midwest, possibly Michigan. However, the plants being chosen would come from local stock.
Native grasses and trees were also suggested, and Klurfield said they are typically cheaper to maintain.
Spacing was also discussed with the plants, trees and grasses. They are to be spaced 15 to 25 feet at some parts and 10 to 15 feet at other parts.
The original proposed fence was meant to include barbed wire at the top of it. After the Aug. 27 meeting it was determined that Cypress Creek Renewables would be willing to do a higher seven-foot fence and not have barbed wire.
At the site plan review it was requested to do something more visually appealing than chain link. Possibly, an orchard fence in place of the chain link.
However, Klurfield said doing an orchard fence could possibly be more expensive. The planning commission along with the residents in attendance discussed possibly looking into an orchard fence and reducing costs around the vegetative buffer.
“If we do an orchard fence I think I would have to run the numbers, but I’m pretty sure it would have to be a substantially less vegetative buffer around everything we proposed,” said Klurfield.
Later, the planning commission settled on the chain link fence since it was not only cost effective, but is expected to last longer than an orchard fence.
Toward the top of the meeting, but not spoken about at the same length as the vegetative buffer and fence, was whether or not Cypress Creek should notify residents about the construction schedule. During construction it is expected that for a three week period the company will be using pile drivers.
Due to the noise of the pile drivers, the planning commission decided a notice should be given as a neighborly gesture to the residents. The pile driving is expected to be nosiest part of the construction. The operation is expected to be in operation during normal business hours.
Cypress Creek Renewables will also be putting in between three to four access roads that will lead to the solar farm on the Sikkenga’s property. Klurfield said the roads will be temporary during the early stages of construction, and something more permanent will be added toward the end.
Construction is expected to begin in May 2020.