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Over 100 mostly unhappy North Annville Township residents packed the Union Water Works Fire Company last night to vent their opposition to a proposed 1,200 acre solar farm west of Route 934.

Addressing the township’s five member planning commission and a packed house, representatives of Lebanon Solar I, LLC., a Colorado based company, outlined their plans for using twelve agricultural zoned properties to erect interconnected banks of solar panels and sell the generated power to utility companies. The company said it has entered into long term leases with the properties’ owners.

Lebanon Solar I is asking for a conditional use permit under the township’s zoning ordinance. A conditional use is a use of property which is permitted as long as the applicant can meet the criteria contained in the zoning ordinance for that particular use. The municipality can impose additional conditions on the use.

While the planning commission heard public comment last night and will make recommendations on the project, the township’s board of supervisors is required by law to make the final decision to approve or reject the application. The board has scheduled a June 24 hearing to take testimony and evidence, as well as further public comment.

Click here for large image of preliminary solar farm plan. (You may have to click on the image again to fully expand).

Lebanon Solar I representative Eric Duncan opened the meeting by describing the components of the project. Banks of light absorbing glass panels will sit on metal frames about eight feet off the soil. The frames would be supported by semi-permanent but easily removable piles driven into the ground. No concrete or hard surface would be installed to support the panels.

Duncan explained that the banks of solar panels will be electrically connected to each other and routed via underground cables to a central switching station. From there, the direct current generated by the panels will be converted to alternating current, similar to standard house current, then tapped into existing overhead wires which are part of the commercial power grid.

The footprint of the entire project, which will include empty space between panels, will cover 1,234 acres, but the panels themselves will only cover about 480 acres, spaced throughout the properties.

Lebanon Solar I intends to surround the entire area with a 6 foot chain link fence, and to erect an “evergreen vegetative buffer” at appropriate points. Duncan also pointed out that vegetation will grow under the solar panels, and that native plant species could be used.

At one point, Lebanon Solar I attorney David Jones claimed that a solar farm, unlike the many gigantic warehouses popping up throughout the area, would help preserve the agricultural nature of the township and keep farms in families. When he added “we like to think this goes toward helping agricultural land regenerate,” the room erupted with laughter.

Planning Commission Chairman Nelson Heagy asked Duncan and Jones whether the panels, even though above ground, would be considered additional “impervious material” under Pennsylvania’s storm water runoff regulations, and possibly bring the township under more stringent and costly “MS4” requirements. Both said they didn’t think that the panels will count as impervious material.

After several other commission members asked questions dealing with storm water, insurance, and performance bond requirements, Chairman Heagy opened the floor to the public for questions.

It was quickly clear that the residents present were almost unanimously opposed to the project. They expressed concerns about declining property values, electromagnetic radiation, ruined sight lines, noise from the switching station, harm to wildlife, glare distracting drivers on adjacent roadways, disposal of toxic chemicals in the panels if damaged or if the operator goes out of business, electrical and brush fires, and possible pollution to drinking water wells.

Lebanon Solar I representatives cited studies and technology that they maintained would eliminate or minimize all of those concerns. They also emphasized that the plan they were presenting was preliminary, and that it could be revised in response to township and resident concerns.

What’s next?

The North Annville Township Board of Supervisors will meet on Thursday, June 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the Union Water Works Fire Company, 2875 Water Works Way, Annville, PA, 17003. At that time, they will hear testimony, receive evidence, and hear additional public comment.

They will then have 45 days to make a decision on whether to approve the proposed solar farm as a conditional use.

Additional information, including documents submitted by Lebanon Solar I to support its application, can be found on the North Annville Township web site.

Chris Coyle

Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...