Wednesday, July 17, 2024

As photo voltaic farms start to blossom in area, some townships look to undertake laws


Ella Lenhart has a watch view of what would be the largest photo voltaic panel farm in Westmoreland County: a whole lot of panels unfold out in an enclosed space on a 134-acre parcel in Cook Township.

It was a sight that Lenhart didn’t discover nice.

“I had a fantastic view till that got here alongside,” Lenhart mentioned, nodding within the course of a area of land panels that New York’s AL-Spring Lane LLC purchased from Raymond Hess for $2.8 million in July 2023.

The actual property transaction covers 134 acres and an adjoining 76-acre parcel.

Lenhart mentioned he was not conscious of the plans by the solar energy developer, MN8 Energy LLC, which shares a New York handle with AL-Spring Lane, till work started in October.

Cook Township has no zoning, and all allowing processes undergo the state Department of Environmental Protection, mentioned Jerry Lenhart, Cook Township supervisor.

The rise of photo voltaic panel farms as a supply of unpolluted vitality has prompted many cities within the state to think about ordinances governing the amenities, mentioned David Sanko, govt director of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors.

The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code permits for zoning or subdivision land growth ordinances that regulate photo voltaic panel installations. Some municipalities in Westmoreland County have adopted an ordinance that will place sure controls on the position, building, operation and upkeep of panel websites in addition to the decommissioning of photo voltaic panels once they not produce electrical energy. .

“There ought to be some controls on the place it suits and the place it would not,” mentioned Sanko, whose group develops mannequin ordinances governing solar energy amenities.

South Huntingdon and Fairfield townships have adopted ordinances setting standards for solar energy farms, and Loyalhanna Township supervisors will contemplate adopting the same ordinance Tuesday, mentioned Daniel Hewitt, an legal professional. of Greensburg that created the ordinance from a number of sources. The cities of Mt. Pleasant and Donegal, cities the place he additionally serves as legal professional, are additionally contemplating adopting the ordinance, Hewitt mentioned.

Municipalities need some controls, Hewitt mentioned, with out putting restrictions on householders putting in rooftop photo voltaic panels that generate energy for their very own use.

A developer who needs to construct a industrial solar energy era facility should element the estimated producing capability of the venture and supply an outline of the categories and sizes of panels. A web site plan should additionally present that the ability’s setback is not less than 200 ft from the property line if it generates lower than 5 megawatts and 500 ft if it generates greater than 5 megawatts.

The mannequin ordinance requires visible screening round solar energy farms, which, at the moment, doesn’t exist at MN8 Energy’s photo voltaic panel farm.

A remark from MN8 Energy was not out there Monday.

Another city with rural land that may very well be ripe for a photo voltaic panel farm is Sewickley Township. Mark Petros, chairman of the city’s board of supervisors, mentioned he isn’t conscious of any native controls on photo voltaic panel farm growth.

Plans make sense

Having an ordinance that units requirements for giant photo voltaic amenities is sweet for each the solar energy developer and the municipality the place the ability might be positioned, mentioned Sharon Pillar, govt director of the Pittsburgh-based Pennsylvania Solar Center.

“It’s a good suggestion to have a plan … that addresses the problems. (Solar energy) builders need that to allow them to perceive what they should do to fulfill municipal necessities, Pillar mentioned.

The Pennsylvania Solar Center is working with Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services of Pittsburgh to develop a mannequin ordinance on giant solar energy amenities, Pillar mentioned.

The mannequin ordinance that can quickly be revealed in a guidebook will comprise suggestions for what municipalities can do as guidelines for regulating solar energy amenities, mentioned Michael Parker, an legal professional and govt director. of Fair Shake Environmental. It has basic provisions for what municipalities can undertake, Parker mentioned.

Municipalities ought to be ready to reply to the event of a solar energy facility, Parker mentioned, including that he was not conscious of the ordinance being thought of by some municipalities in Westmoreland.

The difficulty of an present ordinance governing solar energy amenities was raised final week throughout a listening to earlier than the Unity Township Zoning Hearing Board, for a proposed venture on a 34-acre parcel alongside Charles Houck Road, not removed from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

Unity Supervisor Mike O’Barto, chairman of the three-member board, advised the gang that stuffed the assembly room for a listening to on the proposed photo voltaic panel farm that “the (Unity) ordinance, for to me, after researching, it isn’t clear.

But, O’Barto mentioned, “that was the perfect we had” when the city adopted the ordinance.

“We have to replace it, particularly with the photo voltaic (energy) farms coming to our metropolis. This might be the primary proposal” for a photo voltaic panel farm, O’Barto mentioned.

The union would management the event of huge solar energy farms with the township’s present ordinance that enables growth solely in agricultural zones and conservation districts, mentioned Harry Hosack, township zoning officer.

Unity’s ordinance has setback necessities, much like these within the mannequin ordinance drafted by Hewitt.

Cost of decommissioning

O’Barto raised the query of the standing of photo voltaic panel farms as soon as the panels are completed producing energy.

“I do not know what is going on to occur 20 years down the highway, 30 years down the highway,” O’Barto mentioned.

In the draft offered to some municipalities, the proprietor can not get hold of a allow with out posting a bond protecting not less than 110% of the whole price of decommissioning the photo voltaic electrical facility and offering the city an estimate of price, together with any salvage or resale worth.

“We don’t desire it to be just like the deserted gasoline wells from the Nineteen Forties,” Hewitt mentioned, referring to the proliferation of deserted pure gasoline wells within the state and the environmental issues they trigger.

Sanko mentioned that there’s actual concern about what is going to occur if the solar energy firm that develops a photo voltaic panel farm is out of enterprise 20 years in the past, when the lifetime of the panels begins to lower.

“You do not need to have a monetary burden on taxpayers” to decommission and eliminate outdated photo voltaic panels and associated infrastructure, Sanko mentioned.

Joe Napsha is a TribReside reporter protecting Irwin, North Huntingdon and the Norwin School District. He additionally writes on enterprise points. He grew up on Neville Island and has labored for the Trib for the reason that early Eighties. He could be reached at [email protected].

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