When everyone is pulling in the same direction, it can lead to reasonable, meaningful and positive conclusions, as is the case with Montour County’s new zoning ordinance regarding solar energy.
About a year ago, solar power became a hot topic in Montour County when Talen Energy announced a partnership with Pattern Energy to use nearly 1,000 acres of undeveloped land outside of Washingtonville for a solar energy plant. The land is owned by Talen.
When the plan was formally announced last year, residents living nearby had some concerns. Everything from a potential impact on property values and aesthetics to even health concerns.
To alleviate those fears, county officials held a series of public meetings to listen to those concerns and determine a course of action. Led by county Planning Commission Director Greg Molter, officials were smart to tell residents the county really couldn’t prevent energy companies or others from building in the Valley. Instead, the county could — and has — pursued amendments to its already existing zoning ordinances that regulate the installation of solar energy plants.
County officials listened to all sides and have come up with a solution that seems to work for most involved. The amendments go into effect immediately.
Commissioner Chairman Ken Holdren has said the county must allow solar panel installation based on state and local law.
“This is a very balanced ordinance that protects the rights of neighbors as well as the development of clean energy, including commercial and residential solar development,” Holdren said after the meeting.
“From beginning to end, this has been a positive, thorough planning and zoning process that resulted in a very well-designed solar zoning ordinance,” Jenn Ritchie of Pattern Energy said in the release. “We look forward to the next step in making Montour Solar One a reality, bringing new jobs and an economic boost to the area.”
On the surface, the amendment seems balanced and reasonable.
Among other things, zoning requires all on-site utility and connection lines are to be placed underground, solar panels are to be set up so glare does not project onto nearby buildings and roads, places limits on the size of panels, creates setbacks for the location of solar panels and sets in place a time-frame for removal of all equipment and hardware once a location is decommissioned.
While Commissioner Trevor Finn admitted not everyone is 100 percent happy with the final results, it is a compromise that seems like it can work long-term for all parties.