In Michigan, central planning is not the path to freedom

If you disagree with elected officials, there is a process for that. Not so much for bureaucrats.

What about the farmer who wants to place solar arrays and wind turbines on his land? What about his freedom?

When we write about Lansing’s efforts to take control of siting for large-scale solar and wind projects away from local officials, and give it to appointees of the governor, sometimes readers ask: But what about the farmer? And isn’t this like short-term rentals?

The siting of large-scale solar and wind projects in Michigan is less about what decision is made than who makes it, and why. A bad decision by local officials is better than a good decision by Lansing bureaucrats. Worst-case scenario is when Washington gets involved. It’s easier taking on a railroad.

Supporters of the siting bills admit that Michigan can’t meet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s clean energy goals without removing local say in those projects. With hysterics about end-of-the-world scenarios and a governor in the second of two terms, there was a pressure to act fast. There was no time left to wrangle with local communities, whose land was needed. Better to go over their heads. 

Dan Scripps, chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission and a Whitmer appointee, handled the blocking and tackling. Absent reform that empowered Scripps and his fellow appointees, he warned, the Whitmer climate agenda would fall short. 

Scripps spoke the language of freedom to lawmakers, while asking them to empower himself, a bureaucrat.

“This is very much a property rights issue,” Scripps testified to the Senate energy committee. “If a farm owner or land owner willingly wants to lease his or her land for solar wind, this process affords them a way to be able to do just that. Far too often a local authority denies permits because someone on the township board doesn't like the way that these look. And for that reason alone a farm owner has to turn away opportunity to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

What about the farmer? 

When the people of Green Charter Township disagreed with their board’s support for the Gotion project, they launched a recall effort. Five officials were recalled and two others resigned instead of being recalled. The people sought redress of their grievances, shifted the Overton Window in their favor, and won. 

Property owners in Park Township sued when their board chose to enforce long-dormant bans on short-term rentals. 

That’s what the farmer can do: Build public support for their position, and use it to eject people who disagree, then elect people who agree. The farmer can speak out and use his vote.

Or ask his new friends in the clean energy field to sue for his right to rent the land. 

The only hope of reversing a bureaucrat’s decision is to replace the person who appointed the bureaucrat. In the case of the public service commission, an incumbent governor hasn’t lost in Michigan in 30-plus years, and no governor has ever been recalled. 

What about the farmer’s neighbors? How do they take up a grievance against a bureaucrat they did not elect and cannot recall? 

Giving more power to bureaucrats is not the path to freedom in Michigan. Not for the farmer. Not for anybody.

Local elections operate on the principle of “one person, one vote.” This is good because elected leaders have the consent of the governed. When they lose that consent, they can be replaced. As we have seen.

Bureaucrats operate on the principle “one person, one vote — one time.” You don’t elect the bureaucrat, you elect the person who appoints the bureaucrat. That means the bureaucrat serves the politician, not the public. 

More power for bureaucrats is not the path to freedom in Michigan. Not for the farmer. Not for anybody.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.