DANVILLE — Several residents expressed concerns last Thursday about a proposed solar farm in northern Montour County.
The comments came at hearing the county commissioners held to get public input on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment. The ordinance is designed to regulate commercial and residential solar panels.
The objections to the Montour Solar One project mostly had to do with how the project would impede their view or its effects on the environment.
About a half dozen people and two economic development officials expressed support for the project, though some suggested tweaks of the ordinance prepared by the county planning commission and a subcommittee.
About 30 people, including representatives of the project, attended the hearing.
Sandra Johnston doesn’t want the “ugly black panels” of a solar farm across the road from her home, blocking her view of deer, turkeys and the trees, she said.
Jim Holdren had similar concerns.
“I’m not against solar,” Holdren told the commissioners. “What I’m against is some of the restrictions, some of the setbacks.”
Talen Energy, owner of the Montour Steam Electric Station near Washingtonville, and Pattern Energy Group proposed developing a solar field that could encompass property in Anthony and Derry townships in Montour County and Madison Township in neighboring Columbia County.
The companies are proposing a 1,000-acre site. They estimate the Montour Solar One project will generate about 130 construction jobs over the 12 months of construction.
County officials decided to draft an ordinance to regulate solar panels due to the proposed project. Commissioner Chairman Ken Holdren noted in January that the county must allow their installation based on state and local law.
Setbacks at least 200 feetThe proposed ordinance states that ground-mounted solar panels must be set back not less than 200 feet from the front lot line and not more than 15 feet high.
They would be buffered from adjacent residential properties by a buffer yard of at least 30 feet, from adjacent agricultural uses by at least 15 feet and from any other adjacent uses by at least 20 feet. Vegetation would provide year-round buffering and would screen the facility from visibility.
The commissioners said previously they intend to adopt the ordinance at their Aug. 10 meeting.
At the hearing, Holdren said they would take the comments under consideration.
He suggested the commissioners may hold an informational meeting to better explain setbacks and other specifics of the ordinance.
Some, like Johnston, of Anthony Township, said they didn’t completely understand the proposed ordinance. She said she could not tell how far the panels would be from her house.
“We see deer and turkeys, and they (the developers) want to put a fence around (the panels),” Johnston said.
“I’ll feel like I’m in a prison. They’re going to put these ugly black panels in front of my house. I won’t be able to see the trees.”
Holdren, also of Anthony Township, was concerned about seeing the solar panels and buffers when he looks out his window.
“I want a further setback,” he said.
Glare concernKit Kelley had concerns about glare and said industry determines how much is enough glare or noise. He said he lives near the USG plant.
“The thing screams 24-7,” Kelley said.
The ordinance would require the solar panels be placed so that solar radiation or glare do not project onto nearby structures or roads. The panels’ exterior surface must have a non-reflective finish.
Kelley also was concerned that the aggregate rock around the panels’ base would get into the soil when the solar field is decommissioned.
“It’s not going to be the same soil,” he said.
He said the panels would impact tourism.
Holdren’s wife, Darlene, was concerned about the panels’ effects on residents’ wells and how close the panels would be to the road.
“Devaluation of our property is important, but how you’re living while you’re in your home now is more important,” Darlene Holdren said.
Support for solarEarly in the hearing, several residents expressed support for the solar energy project. Mary Hermann and Mark Doncheski, who live together in the Kaseville section of Valley Township, were among about a half dozen supporters who spoke. They have solar panels.
Doncheski, a Shamokin native, said solar is much better than coal.
“There’s no noise, no coal dust, no smell,” he said. “We get money back from PPL every year.”
Lisa Hartman, a board member of the Northern Montour Recreation Association, and Ken Kryder, director of the Columbia-Montour Vocational-Technical School, were appreciative of financial support from the Montour Solar One developers.
Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce, and John Augustine, president and chief executive officer of Penn’s Northeast, a Northeastern Pennsylvania economic development agency, spoke in support.
Augustine said of Talen, “You’re very fortunate to be dealing with a good company.”