A proposal to build a solar panel field on a 1,000-acre site adjacent to a coal-fired power plant near Washingtonville offers an illustration of the kind of energy production diversity most experts agree we need to continue meeting our electrical power needs in the years ahead.

Talen Energy, which owns and operates the coal-fired power plant in Montour County, is teaming with Pattern Development, described as one of the largest energy development companies in the world, to build the solar energy field on land Talen owns. They are currently seeking local, state and federal permits to proceed with the project.

The plans lay out the stark, yet intriguing contrasts between two vastly different forms of electrical generation that would eventually join together in the local power grid to generate economical and environmental benefits.

What exists now is the Talen Montour Energy Plant, where two coal-fired units, equipped with environmental control technologies, are capable of generating 1,504 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 1 million homes and businesses, according to the company.

The solar field proposed by Talen and Pattern Development would feature solar panels that rotate with the sun to generate about 100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 20,000 homes and businesses.

The contrasts are clear — a conventional plant capable of generating significant electrical power derived from a fossil fuel that comes with environmental costs would stand adjacent to a field of solar panels that, although it can’t compete with the power plant’s generation capabilities, would produce electricity from a renewable source that emits no greenhouse gases.

In addition to public health and environmental benefits that come with no greenhouse gas emissions, the growth of the solar energy industry will generate economic growth, job opportunities and more stable energy prices, according to “Pennsylvania’s Solar Future Plan,” a report published by the state Department of Environmental Protection in November 2018 that offers strategies to increase solar electrical generation across Pennsylvania.

If approved, the Talen-Pattern solar proposal is expected to generate about 130 construction jobs over 12 months and some continuing operational jobs thereafter. The solar field would connect with the Pennsylvania electrical transmission system and would be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Developers said the solar panels would have a useful lifespan of 30 to 35 years, and the land could be “returned to its current use or better” if the solar array is dismantled.

It appears that a wide array of energy producing sources will be necessary in the years ahead, so any that can generate electricity from clean, renewable sources deserve serious attention and consideration. 

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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