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Solar farm proposed in Sands

Savion development director Courtney Timmons, center, chats with area residents regarding a proposed solar farm in Sands Township during an open house held Thursday at the Sands Township Hall pavilion. The proposed development, called the Superior Solar Project, would break ground within three years if approved. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

SANDS TOWNSHIP — A proposed solar farm in Sands Township is in the early stages of planning and development.

The proposed solar farm would be nearly 2,000 acres and is projected to produce 150 megawatts of power. It will be called the Superior Solar Project and is being headed by Savion LLC, of Kansas City, Missouri.

Savion was founded in 2019 and is currently developing 69 solar projects in 24 states. The company has 26 completed solar projects across 10 states, according to its website, including one in downstate Muskegon.

Savion hosted an open house at the Sands Township Hall on Thursday to gather input from both area residents and township officials.

The purpose of the open house was simply for Savion to introduce itself to the community, organizers said.

“We’re here (today) to talk about this area as a potential project and get information from the community in order to design the project in a way that’s harmonious with existing land use,” said Courtney Timmons, development director for Savion. “We’ve gotten a lot of great support. And we’ve done a lot of community outreach for this event to get people informed on what this project looks like. We’ve gotten tremendous support, which has been fantastic.”

Timmons is an Upper Peninsula native himself and a graduate of Gwinn High School and Northern Michigan University. His position with Savion is based out of Chicago.

When asked why the company is looking to develop a solar farm in the U.P., Timmons said technology in the area has improved as of late. He also noted the need for solar power in the area, with the recent closures of the Presque Isle Power Plant and Shiras Steam Plant in Marquette.

“The utilities in the Upper Peninsula are seeking power. The solar energy technology has improved greatly in the last few years, and we think now is an outstanding time for a solar project in the Upper Peninsula, especially with the two coal plants recently closing down. We can make economical, clean and sustainable power.”

Timmons said the project is expected to be a capital investment of $100 million to $150 million and will benefit the local economy in multiple ways.

“At that level, it will generate somewhere between $15 million and $20 million in new property taxes,” he said. “The project will also create 200 temporary construction jobs and two to four permanent full-time jobs. It’s a great opportunity for the U.P. to take advantage of clean and sustainable energy.”

The proposed location for the Superior Solar Project is on Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. property in Sands Township, southwest of the County Road 480 and M-553 crossroads. Savion would lease the property from Cliffs for the project.

The project has not yet been approved and no paperwork or permits have been filed, Sands Township zoning administrator Randy Yelle said.

Yelle is also on board with the project, and said Savion has been in touch with local recreational groups to work out any potential negative impacts of the land use.

“All the feedback I’ve gotten so far has been positive,” he said. “That’s why Savion hosted this, to see if anyone had any interest. Savion has talked to residents, they’ve talked to Adventure Centre (Arctic Cat), they’ve talked to the U.P. 200 people, they’ve talked to trail riders and snowmobile clubs and we haven’t heard anything negative yet.”

Marquette-based attorney and incoming Innovate Marquette SmartZone chair Rich Vander Veen, who is well known for his involvement with wind power projects in Michigan, shared similar sentiments on the project.

“We hope to work with the township and the community, of course, to earn the trust and confidence that this is going to be a great project,” he said. “We’re listening very closely to the recreation groups, we’re working with people who are riding motorbikes, horses, snowmobiles, and of course, preserving the trail systems.”

Vander Veen, who’s worked on wind and solar projects for roughly 25 years, said the project would power 20,000 homes and would also benefit local schools, the county and the economy. The project would be the largest of its kind in the U.P. and one of the largest in the United States, according to Vander Veen.

“There’s a lot of very valuable things that could happen here that really could be good for everybody,” he said. “But we have to earn the trust and confidence of the community, and that’s not a given. There are going to be some people who are against everything anyway, but as I say, we’re going to be working hard to think through the process so that we are integrating people’s thinking and working with them, finding a way to make things happen. We’ll keep listening.”

Yelle said the project is expected to break ground within three years if approved. The Sands Township board will hold a meeting on Dec. 15 to address and approve or disapprove the special use permit needed for the project.

For more information on Savion and its development projects, visit www.savionenergy.com.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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