Alternative energy: Hancock Planning Commission recommends solar, wind ordinance

HANCOCK — Hancock’s proposed wind and solar ordinance is moving on to the City Council.

fter multiple rounds of revisions, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to recommend the ordinance at its meeting Monday night.

“I think it worked out well,” said Commissioner Steve Walton, who helped draft the ordinance. “I think the feedback allowed us to consolidate a bunch of things, simplify a bunch of things.”

The ordinance allows for small accessory solar or wind systems throughout the city, with restrictions on setback, height and siting. Zoning permits are required.

Industrial-use solar systems are allowed in the industrial district, provided they have a special use permit and full site review. Large-scale wind systems are not allowed in any district.

Planning Commission Chair Kurt Rickard said the plan finds a good balance, giving opportunities for alternative energy installations while preventing nuisances in neighborhoods.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage people to use alternative energy sources on the property in a way that fits in with the community,” he said.

The draft went through a number of changes before Wednesday’s endorsement.

One new addition clarifies that the ordinance does not apply to smaller solar or wind systems used to power a single piece of equipment, such as yard lights or a weather station. The maximum height for ground solar arrays, which had varied between 15 and 20 feet depending on the type of structure, was streamlined to require zoning administrator approval for anything over 12 feet.

“I like the way we took our time on it,” said Planning Commissioner Ron Blau, who also sits on the city council. “We got it right, pretty much what we think is right, before we sent it to the council.”

The ordinance is moving on as new developments could promote alternative energy in the area. In a settlement with the Michigan Public Service Commission that also resulted in a rate increase, the Upper Peninsula Power Co. agreed to increase the cap for ​customer-owned distributed generation.

The program allows users to generate electricity to reduce the amount they need to buy from a utility. That amount can now go up to 4.5% of the UPPCO’s five-year average peak electricity load, up from 3%.

Half of that capped amount is set aside for smaller residential users.

“If you want to put in solar, now’s the time,” Walton said.

Nothing in the ordinance would rule out a community solar program, Walton said. As a possible model, he pointed to a Republican-backed bill in Wisconsin that would allow private developers to provide the programs. That would remove a current obstacle, where cities now have to front the cost themselves, Walton said.

He encouraged residents to contact their representatives.


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