DANVILLE — The Montour Solar One solar panel farm in parts of Anthony, Derry and Madison townships, if approved, could begin hiring construction workers by May 2021, a project official said during a telephone town hall on Wednesday night.

The project is a joint venture of Talen Energy, owner of the Washingtonville power plant, and Pattern Energy, which has built and operates renewable energy facilities internationally.

The project is planned as Talen moves to convert the coal-fired plant to natural gas by 2025, which will result in a reduction of jobs, a company representative told a caller named Roy, who asked how the conversion to gas would affect the plant's employee population. The Talen representative, Julie LaBella, senior director — regulatory and external affairs, said the employee count will be lower with gas, but she didn't have a specific number.

Another caller suggested eliminating coal would boost property values in the area.

Jenn Ritchey, a senior manager with Pattern, said the project would hire a local construction company to conduct a job fair as early as May to hire the approximately 130 workers to construct the solar panel field.

After that, operation of the solar field would only require one or two jobs, plus additional seasonal workers for such tasks as vegetation control, Ritchey said. 

Ritchey also said that Talen, Pattern and Montour Solar One would not receive special tax preferences. 

Caller Jeff said he had heard some of the panels would go on leased farmland.

Joey Shannon, a senior manager with Talen, said Talen owns the majority of the property where panels would be installed, but some of those parcels are not connected.

"That's where we are reaching out to property owners," Shannon said.

He said a limited number of properties would connect the Talen parcels.

In answer to environmental concerns, Ritchey said the panels would contain cadmium telluride, a semiconducting material used in solar modules, which is very stable and different from cadmium alone, a heavy metal that is extremely hazardous.

She said Pattern would monitor the panels 24 hours a day, seven days a week for damage. The panels would be hidden from view by fencing and would be angled and at a height to avoid glare.

Ritchey said studies in other states show solar panel fields have little or no impact on property values.

She added that solar panels themselves are silent. The inverters and tracking motors are not audible above background noise — 40 decibels — at the fence line 100 feet away from the devices.

"That's the sound level of a library," she said. "The inverters will be 300 feet from neighboring properties."

She said the panels are recyclable, once they come to the end of the life cycle. One manufacturer already has a recycling program and others are starting them.

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