Big Solar Denied

The banner on the Mount Joy Township website, describes the township as “A Community with Rural Character and a Rich History.” Rich history refers to the Battle of Gettysburg, a famous Pennsylvania battle, 158 years ago next month, in the ‘War between the States,’ and more commonly known to Americans as “The Civil War.” The battlefield was later the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Gettysburg Address.”

Big Solar around Gettysburg

This past Thursday, one of the largest solar projects in Pennsylvania, designed to cover 1,000 acres across 18 different farms near the Gettysburg battlefield, was nixed by a tie, with a 2- 2 vote by Mount Joy Township supervisors, remotely on Zoom, due to ongoing pandemic protocols. The 5th deciding vote would have been cast by a supervisor who recused himself, since he had signed one of the NextEra solar leases for his property, and would benefit financially if the measure passed.

Stiff Opposition

The NextEra Energy Resources project, known as Brookline Solar 1, was opposed by 168 property owners, many of whom were next door neighbors. Under the banner of Residents for Responsible Solar and Agriculture, the group insists the solar installations will harm Adams County’s two largest businesses, agriculture and Civil War tourism, considering it an industrial- scale power plant.

Their change.org petition included this:

Stop Industrial Solar on Rural / Ag Land: Preserve Historic Gettysburg / Chesapeake Watershed

NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, Juno Beach, Florida has applied for a conditional-use permit to develop 1,000 acres of mostly agricultural-zoned land in Mount Joy Township, Gettysburg/ Littlestown, PA with 4-5 other local townships now in foreign solar corporation cross-hairs.

Prime farmland, forested and floodplain areas adjacent to wetlands, historic homes, and residential property values are all threatened by this project with only 50 feet setbacks, 8′ fences with barbed wire, and 12′ high rotating solar panels.  Abundant wildlife including deer, turkeys, migratory birds, and raptors/eagles would also be harmed, including the Alloway Creek Watershed that buffers tremendous storm water run-off to the Chesapeake Bay. 


This project would be funded by tax-payer subsidies and huge corporate tax credits.  The energy created by this project will only be powering East Coast Grid and will NOT benefit local electricity rates in the county and very few local jobs would be created.  This Brookview Solar I industrial power plant and others surrounding Gettysburg threatens tourism, which promotes our historic and agricultural heritage. 


Residents for Responsible Agriculture/Solar of Mount Joy Township are respectfully requesting that any board decision be an outstanding “No” as also recommended by the Planning Commission on January 14, 2020.


Even more concerning, the “low ball” decommissioning costs are only estimated at 3.53 million to cover the full removal/disposal of 530 acres of solar panels for this 90 million project, so any gross miscalculations/project overages will quickly become the township/county expense and burden over-the-next 35 years.


Solar companies now eying up all sides of Gettysburg Battlefield in Cumberland/Mt Joy/Straban with numerous other townships creating solar use ordinances for industrial-utility scale usage.


END OF PETITION

The National Energy Renewable Laboratory counters many of those objections with this information on their NREL website:

Top Five Large-Scale Solar Myths

3 February 2016 by Megan Day

As large-scale solar facilities proliferate throughout the country, more communities are considering the potential merits and drawbacks of this new kind of neighbor. Initial reactions to the prospect of large-scale photovoltaic (PV) facilities or solar farms tend to include a myriad of misperceptions.

Actual questions about proposed solar farms in this former solar developer’s experience have included:

  • Won’t drivers cause accidents rubber-necking at this strange facility?
  • Can my cattle graze on there?
  • Can I run an extension cord to power my house?

Here are the top five myths I encountered in my six years of working with communities to build solar farms:

Myth #1: Solar farms are like factories

Local officials and planners often restrict solar farms in residential, commercial, and sometimes agricultural zoning districts, limiting their location to industrial districts. Industrial zoning is primarily intended to separate intense land uses, such as factories and distribution centers and their associated pollution, noise, and traffic, from residential areas. However, after construction, solar farms are quiet, clean facilities that generally have no on-site employees.

One city manager with numerous solar farms in his community compared the land use to a cemetery (no living inhabitants), demonstrating that solar farms can be compatible even with residential neighbors.

Myth #2: Glare

Residents and community officials often cite glare or blinding from solar facilities as a primary concern. While concentrating solar technologies do use mirrors which can cause glare, most solar farms use PV modules to generate electricity. PV modules use non-reflective glass and are designed to absorb rather than reflect the light that hits the panels in order to convert solar energy into electricity. PV modules are generally less reflective than windows and are installed at numerous airports.

Myth #3: Noise 

The noisiest components in a solar farm are the inverters, which generate a low buzzing sound as they convert electricity from the direct current (DC) generated by PV modules to alternating current (AC) used by the electric grid. Tracking equipment allowing PV modules to face the sun over the course of the day can also generate a low level of noise. However, the noise generated by solar farms is generally not audible above ambient noise outside of the facility fence.

Myth #4: Property values

While the impacts of a solar farm on neighboring property values have not been studied in-depth, numerous studies found the impact of wind energy generation on neighboring property values to be negligible. As solar farms do not have the same impacts as wind farms (i.e., PV facilities do not cast a shadow on neighboring properties, cause light flicker, or have the same visual impact as wind farms), the impacts on property values caused by solar farms are anticipated to be less than the impacts of wind farms. Some communities have opted for mitigation measures to reduce visual impacts of solar farms through the use of vegetative screening or decorative fencing, since PV modules are usually mounted close to the ground (less than seven feet high).

Myth #5: Electro-magnetic fields

Solar facilities generate electro-magnetic fields similar to household appliances within close proximity, which dissipate with increasing distance and pose no health risk to neighboring residents.

Concerns about proposed solar farms are often offset by local benefits such as significant local employment and spending during construction, increased property tax revenues with minimal drain on public services, and low water use, emission-free electricity generation.

END OF N.R.E.L. WEBPAGE TEXT

Back to the Mount Joy Township, Pennsylvania story and NextEra’s Brookline Solar 1 project…

A real estate appraiser testified that home values would decline 20 percent, while NextEra witnesses said that had not happened to home values elsewhere, nor had glare from the panels been a problem for motorists or homeowners. Some campaigners were protesting that a 50 foot setback from property lines was not enough. One Mount Joy Township supervisor went so far as to propose a $3.3 million bond to guarantee the restoration of sites, non- glare solar panels, and encouragement to buy materials made in the U.S.A.

This Brookline Solar 1 project is proposed to be 75 megawatts, which is 5 megawatts more than the Franklin County solar farm activated 8 months ago, to help power Penn State University. Anti- solar campaigners in Adams County hope to have their township’s zoning ordinance revised, since 10 of the proposed solar installation properties weren’t even subject to ‘conditional use’ permits. A NextEra spokesperson said they were weighing their options after the failed vote, and did not plan to drop the project. Many people, including myself, feel that Pennsylvania is behind on renewable energy from solar, and the PennFuture environmental group has reportedly endorsed this project.

Looking further, I found a meeting announcement for this Tuesday evening…

Mount Joy Township supervisors have posted the following Announcement and Open Letter (below) to residents and property owners in the township, beginning with the Planning Commission meeting announcement for this Tuesday, June 8th at 7 p.m. EDT:

NOTICE
Planning Commission’s Meeting
June 8, 2021 MEETING
TO BE CONDUCTED REMOTELY
The meeting will be conducted remotely and the meeting room will be closed to the public.
Please access the meeting via computer OR smartphone, NOT both. If you have the StartMeeting App, once the meeting is added, it will stay and will simply need to hit join button. If you do not have the StartMeeting App:
Dial in number: 774-267-4603
Access code: # (access code is the pound sign)
OR
https://join.startmeeting.com/mtjoytwp
Hit join button. Online Meeting ID: mtjoytwp
Members of the public who wish to address the Commission on a matter not listed on the business agenda (the agenda also is posted on the Township website) may do so by either:
(i)  offering comment during the scheduled Public Comment portion of the agenda (public comment is received during the beginning of the meeting).
or
(ii) by emailing comment to mtjoytwp@mtjoytwp.us.  The email must be received no later than 4 p.m. on Tuesday June 8, 2021.
or
(iii) by mailing comment to the Township Office at 902 Hoffman Home Rd. Gettysburg, Pa 17325.  The mailing must be received by the Township no later than Tuesday June 8, 2021.
or
(iv) by hand-delivering comment to the Township Office at 902 Hoffman Home Rd. Gettysburg, Pa 17325.  The hand-delivered comment must be received by the Township no later than 4 p.m. Tuesday June 8, 2021.
In the event of a problem with the virtual meeting platform or related equipment interrupts the virtual meeting, all efforts will be made to correct the problem and continue the meeting. This may take some time and may require virtual attendees to join the meeting again-PLEASE BE PATIENT. If the problem cannot be corrected, notice of termination of the meeting will be posted immediately on the Township website and, when possible, posted on the meeting platform. 

This sort of NIMBY opposition runs counter to other communities like East Haven, Connecticut, where solar was installed on a capped landfill, and includes glowing reports from the Mayor in this story:

“This new solar array is a win-win,” Mayor Joseph A. Carfora said in a statement announcing the project’s completion. “We’re saving on electricity costs and generating income from under-utilized land. Plus, we’re helping build a more sustainable and energy-efficient Town.” The town has a 20-year lease agreement and a no upfront cost, power purchase agreement with Greenskies Clean Energy LLC, which over those two decades is expected to save the town about $1.4 million in electricity costs and additional revenue in annual lease payments. In addition to the financial benefits, the East Haven project is expected to generate upward of 1.64 million kilowatt hours of clean, renewable energy yearly, according to the company. Over its lifetime, the project will offset more than 19,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide, said to be the equivalent of taking more than 4,275 cars off the road, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Calculator.” END OF EAST HAVEN STORY

Small Townships Facing Big Projects

Following this Mount Joy story to its conclusion will be interesting, as we’ve seen over recent years with so many small, rural townships in western Pennsylvania, when Oil and Gas producers rolled into town. Many townships aren’t prepared to deal with the large corporations, and similar to this case with solar, their township ordinances were inadequate to cover all the issues brought about by large scale energy activity. Their small budgets often handcuffed or limited them, when it came to fighting big corporations in court, especially for the long periods of time often required to prevail.

What’s your energy ‘flavor?’

In the end, I’m guessing most people would prefer having a solar farm close to them, than an industrial scale gas well pad, compressor station, pipeline, or cryogenic gas plant (since they often accompany one another), along with the ensuing diesel truck traffic 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Bob
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