SANDS TWP., Mich. (WJMN) – On December 15, a special use permit was approved for Superior Solar Project, LLC to develop a solar energy system in Sands Township.

Randall Yelle, zoning administrator for Sands Township, says the Superior Solar Project will be leasing 2,300 acres of land Southwest of the intersection of County Road 480 and M553. According to Yelle, 1,500 acres will be used and trails through the area will still be accessible.

“The biggest thing that the people complain about was recreation but Savion has set it up to where that’s almost a nonissue, they just have to reroute a couple of trails and it’s being done, it’s being handled,” said Yelle.

He says other questions regarded the fencing around the area. The fences that will go up will not be around the entire 2,300 acres. They will only surround the immediate areas of solar panels or structures.

“The total project is going it looks like it’s going to end up at about 1500 acres, and the misconception that the 1,500 acres was going to be cyclone fenced off with concertina wire on top, that’s not the case,” said Yelle. “The only part that’s going to be fenced off is the actual solar panels and if there’s a structure. And there will be roadways going through it. And there will be a cyclone fence, but not concertina wire it’ll have three barbed wires on the top.”

Other concerns from the public were water contamination.

“A lot of the issues that came up were water contamination and that was proven to be a nonissue,” said Yelle. “The other thing was weed control, they didn’t want to see any poisonous type weed control, that is not an issue. There won’t be any, they’ll be using mechanical or organic control.”

Despite those concerns, Yelle says there has mainly been positive support for the project. He says the township thinks the project is good.

“We feel as though solar energy is a thing of the future and we think it’s very very environmentally sound, as opposed to internal combustion engines out there but gas and diesel and that type of thing,” said Yelle. “and then windmills with grease and oil flying around this doesn’t have all that this is a very environmental project, I believe is the future.”

Savion, the company that will own and construct the project, has provided a vegetation plan that outlines what they will do to remove and maintain vegetation around panels. Rich Vanderveen has spent the last 20 years building wind and solar projects across Michigan and the United States. He says construction will begin in the spring of 2023 and take between six and nine months.

“This project will be about 150, megawatts, one megawatt is roughly three to 4000 panels. So all told there will be between 350 and 450,000 panels depending on the size and shape of the arrays,” said Vanderveen.

The project will cost between $100 and $150 million dollars. When it is complete, they will be able to either sell the project outright or sell the energy produced from the panels.

“It will be paid for either through a power purchase agreement, as an agreement between Savion and a utility to buy the power over, a 20 or 30 year period, or selling the project outright,” said Vanderveen.

The power produced by these solar panels will provide energy to the local area. Vanderveen says there will be more voltage support and power quality because of the solar panels.

“The great thing about this project is, is that the land in which we have leased from Cleveland cliffs is directly under the 345 kilovolt line,” said Vanderveen. “This is the largest line on the UP that comes out of the Presque Isle power plant which is now closed it heads toward Green Bay. So that line has capacity. And that’s one of the reasons we selected this site is a great community, a great landlord and excellent transmission.”

Vanderveen says the project will have the capacity to power 35,000 homes, plus storage. He says they did studies on the area and determined it gets a significant amount of sun and that they are confident it will be a highly effective project.

Savion provided many documents outlining different aspects of the project and concern areas. Some of these documents include the vegetation management plan, a land-use map and a decommissioning plan.