DANVILLE — Montour County planners will write an amendment to zoning regulations that would, if passed, allow a solar farm in locations other than woodlands.

The topic came up at the county commissioners meeting on Tuesday morning when county Planning and Zoning Director Greg Molter talked about a proposed solar farm near the Talen power plant in Derry Township.

The solar farm, a joint venture between Pattern Development and Talen Energy, is proposed for a 1,000-acre area near the power plant just outside of Washingtonville. Talen owns the land. The solar field would be a separate entity and would not affect operations of the Talen plant, according to Ben Kelahan and Don Johnson, who presented plans for the Montour Solar One project to the Montour Area Recreation Commission (MARC) at its Aug. 24 Zoom meeting. 

The solar field also would be adjacent to the Montour Preserve, one of the recreation areas MARC oversees.

The project would generate about 130 construction jobs over 12 months of construction, but just a few jobs to maintain the site.

A couple of neighbors of the proposed site expressed concern to the commissioners about the solar farm, though. They learned all of the panels would not be in one contiguous area.

Kelahan told the MARC board last month the solar farm "touches Anthony, Madison and Derry townships."

"Are you going to lower our property taxes?" asked William Zerman, of Derry Township.

Molter said the area would have fencing or buffer screening.

"They cannot landlock you," Molter said.

He added solar panel technology doesn't allow for glare but absorption.

Mark Powers, of West Hemlock Township, said he was concerned about the loss of farmland.

"I would like to see zero green tillable land taken up by a solar farm," Powers said. 

The lifespan of the solar farm would be about 30 years, then the land would be returned to its original condition. Powers said he has heard of solar panels lasting 50 years.

"We're talking about two generations of farmland, unique tillable land we may need," he said, adding he doubted the land would be returned to the way it was.

Molter said the planning commission will develop an ordinance amendment to include appropriate fencing, more wildlife protection, a land reclamation requirement and bonds in place in case the company goes out of business or declares bankruptcy.

Powers, saying he has solar panels on his own home, said officials should look at other locations, such as schools or other large buildings.

"There are a lot of other ways to address solar panels," he said. "This is the easy way. What about the roofs of buildings, canopies over parking lots?"

Commissioner Trevor Finn said, "We could make those recommendations."

Commissioner Chairman Ken Holdren said Geisinger parking lots, if areas were covered in canopies, would be ideal for solar panels. Finn suggested checking with Green Thumb Inc. and DRIVE, both of which occupy large buildings.

The commissioners said amending the ordinance does not mean they are giving the project their blessing.

"Unless we move forward in having a discussion, then we're doing nothing," Finn said.

Molter said the planning commission would seek input from the affected communities. The planning commission meets every third Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at 21 Woodbine Lane in Mahoning Township.

In other business, the commissioners:

Awarded $384,868 in COVID-19 Relief Block Grant funds to 31 small businesses.

Approved $167,907.68 in CARES Act municipal awards — $127,287.34 to Danville Borough, $32,220.34 to Mahoning Township, and $8,400 to the Danville Area School District.

Announced the deadline for CARES Act grants for nonprofits is Friday. Applications are available through the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation.

Scheduled a public hearing on Oct. 13 at 11 a.m. on recommendations to award $318,889 — including $99,511 allocated to Danville Borough — in federal Community Development Block Grant funds as follows: $90,000 to repair structural issues of Danville Area Community Center's bridge entrance; $89,078 for electrical modernization at the Jane E. DeLong Memorial Hall in Washingtonville; $82,411 toward the Danville Fire Department's new ladder truck fund, and $56,100 to SEDA-COG and $1,300 to the county for the administration of the funds.

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