Michigan isn’t known for sunny weather. Yet in recent years, it’s seen a strong push for solar energy — including in Traverse City, the largest community in northern Michigan. Along the M-72 highway, rows of huge solar panels gleam in the sun, covering about 30 acres of grassy field.

In the shade underneath the panels are sheep.

This is called “solar grazing,” where livestock are placed on solar installations to keep vegetation in check. Sheep have grazed at the site for the past three summers, eating grass and depositing droppings along the rows of panels.

Bart Hautala, operations manager for Heritage Sustainable Energy, said hosting some 30 sheep is a win-win: Sheep eat the grass, and that prevents foliage from shading the panels.

“It’s a multiuse land now,” he said. “It’s environmentally friendly. We’re helping out a farmer. He’s got more space to put more sheep.”

But across the state and the country, similar collaborations between farmers and companies have faced roadblocks.

Solar power is central to the nation’s transition to renewable energy, including in Michigan, which is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. Reaching that goal will require a lot of land, and some solar companies, researchers, and farmers are trying to use land for both agriculture and renewable energy — a practice called agrivoltaics. But local opposition has hampered those efforts, and solar advocates say Michigan is a prime example of how townships can slow renewable energy development.

This debate is playing out around the country, as people grapple with what a transition to clean energy actually means. A May 2023 report by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University found that across 35 states, there are 228 local restrictions strong enough to stop projects. That opposition has grown steadily, up 35 percent from the year before. And local restraints severely restrict renewable development, according to a 2022 report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Read the full article about clean energy in small towns by Izzy Ross at Grist.