Apex unveils preliminary layout for the Coldwater Solar project

·3 min read

Apex Clean Energy unveiled its design for the Coldwater solar project Thursday at a public viewing at Lockwood Church.

The company leased 570 acres in Coldwater Township and will use 370 acres for solar panels. In Ovid, there are 1,100 acres under lease with 600 acres for panels.

The project mostly fits south of Garfield Road between Sanford and Fillmore roads. It stops north of Coldwater River, to the north of Central Road.

Coldwater Township's solar ordinance is minimal. Ovid Township officials spent a year putting together a stricter ordinance with screening and more extensive setback restrictions. That meant an increase in leased acres.

Nick Alexander, development manager at Apex said it is designed to adhere to the ordinance. Apex will negotiate with neighbors to try to maximize panel space, but "everything you see here really should fit (Ovid's) ordinance almost to a 'T' at this point."

Alexander said Apex is offering "good neighbor agreements" to some residents whose property did not need to lease.

"We're having conversations with all of the residents in the community, who may not own large fields but will live adjacent to the project," he said. "We offer them an opportunity to participate and get some benefit out of the project" smaller yearly payments."

Ovid Township Planning Commission will see it on March 1. Alexander said applications would be made for the special use permit for the 150-megawatt solar farm this summer to both Coldwater and Ovid townships.

Construction could get underway in early 2023, with completion a year after that.

The solar panels are on poles with pivots that rotate 60 degrees to follow the sun. Maximum height is 11 feet. All leased parcels must be fenced.

Ryan Carrigan, field manager at Apex, proposed agriculture fencing rather than chain link.

"It's more aesthetically pleasing," Carrigan said. "It's wood posts with wire mesh seven (feet) high."

The fence complies with all codes.

"It's going to be up to the township to sort of approve that," Carrigan said.

The fence sites will be shielded by trees, Alexander said.

"They want certain trees," he said. " They need to be six feet apart in double rows."

When trees are planted, they must be four feet high to grow into a visual buffer.

"We want this to be a natural part of the environment that has minimal impact on people visually and otherwise," Alexander said.

In the current design, Apex will plant 15 acres of trees valued at $1 million.

There are wildlife corridors throughout the project. to ensure that deer are able to migrate, Alexander said.

"We're not blanketing entire swaths of square fields with fence line," he said.

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development considers solar farms part of farming operations. That means planting pollinator habitats, wildflowers and specific types of grass near and under panels.

Almost all the leased land is designated farmland under PA 116 and is eligible for special farmland benefits.

Carrigan elaborated.

"It puts it on pause effectively," he said. "So for the life of the solar farm, say 30 years, their contracts are on pause. When the decommissioning returns the land to (agriculture) use, they return to the PA 116."

Apex awaits a final decision on transmission capacity and costs from Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the grid operator. A 138-Kv line bisects the project north of Fenn Road.

Project cost is estimated at $167 million. That would generate $27 million over the 30-year leases to local government in property taxes.

The state legislature is contemplating a change in the law to tax projects at a flat rate each year per megawatt output.

Nick Alexander, development manager at Apex Clean Energy, displays the layout for a 150-megawatt solar farm in Coldwater and Ovid townships.
Nick Alexander, development manager at Apex Clean Energy, displays the layout for a 150-megawatt solar farm in Coldwater and Ovid townships.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: Apex unveils preliminary layout for the Coldwater Solar project