Tri-County Citizen

New Lothrop man rejects solar farm deal to defend neighbors

One of the many signs popping up in the Montrose, Flushing and New Lothrop. Photo by Jeanne Marcello

One of the many signs popping up in the Montrose, Flushing and New Lothrop. Photo by Jeanne Marcello

Just east of New Lothrop on Easton Road and in surrounding communities, signs along the road say, “No Solar Farms.” Pickup trucks display a larger version of the signs. A New Lothrop man has resisted the temptation of big money and instead, chosen to defend his neighbors’ property rights.

In February, Drew Vielbig, a representative of Ranger Power came to visit Rex Wheeler about signing up his farmland to be part of a massive solar farm. Wheeler later found out that acreage in the New Lothrop, Flushing and Montrose area had already been signed up.

Wheeler said, “He offered me $1,000 an acre to lease my ground.” He had the choice of signing a lease for 20, 30 or 40 years.

Wheeler told Vielbig, “Wow, that’s a lot of money, but what about the residential homeowners around my farms? My concern is will it drop their property values.” Wheeler had seen the large solar farm north of Lennon/south of New Lothrop. In some places, fences were placed right on, or very close to the property lines around the homes.

He asked Vielbig, “What about their property values?” Vielbig told him that there isn’t any proof that it could impact property values.

Wheeler told the Citizen, “I think it could significantly drive down the value of each home.” Vielbig offered him a one-time payment to sign a threeyear contract, while they put the deal together with other property owners.

It was a lot of money, but Wheeler turned it down. He feels it’s not fair to the neighbors.

He knows the Shiawassee County Board approved an ordinance allowing solar farms and there are farm owners who have already accepted a deal.

Wheeler said, “I intend to help. We must protect residential property owners. The language in these ordinances must change. The homeowner must have a voice. They are a huge part of our great communities. I feel the homeowner has been left out.”

He decided that somebody has to fight this to protect the community. “We need to get involved and let our local planning boards know we need significant changes in these solar farm ordinances. We need larger setbacks and other provisions to prevent rural homes from being boxed in by the tall fences surrounding solar farms,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was made an offer some wouldn’t refuse, but he chose to fight for his community instead. He intends to inform area residents to protect the community.

Wheeler has scheduled many socially-distanced outdoor informational sessions about solar farms, why he opposes solar farms in the area, and what needs to be done to protect the community. This weekend’s sessions are at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 20 and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 21, at 11183 Easton Road, New Lothrop. For more information about the times and place, call (810) 638-5909.

Watch for the “No Solar Farms” signs in the community and on the road. Many volunteers help to answer the phone. If no one answers, callers are asked to please leave a message or call back later.