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20-Megawatt Solar Array Proposed in Potter Township

by on March 11, 2020 5:00 AM

A new utility-scale solar array could be coming to Potter Township.

Project developer Cypress Creek Renewables submitted a conditional use application to the township on Jan. 29 to construct a 20-megawatt solar farm on up to 230 acres of land at 541 Smith Lane. It would be the largest solar project to date in Centre County.

Cypress Creek develops, owns and operates utility-scale and distributed solar facilities around the country. It has offices in California, North Carolina, Oregon and Illinois.

The parcels where the array would be built, which are owned by Berginblick Partners and Richard Kissinger, are zoned rural residential and are currently used for crop farming. They are located near Rimmey Road and Rhoneymeade.

Township zoning officer Stan Wallace said the development area is entirely within Potter Township, but a portion of the property which would be used for access is in Harris Township.

The site was selected, in part, because of the growing demand for low-cost solar in Pennsylvania, Parker Sloan, Cypress Creek Renewables senior community and economic development manager, said in an email.

"When determining locations for solar projects we look for landowners interested in partnering with us to host a solar facility on their property," Sloan said. "We also look for land with suitable utility interconnection infrastructure and land that meets our topographical requirements."

The facility would consist of ground-mounted photovoltaic panels no more than 7 feet in height. The energy generated would be fed into the grid and "used at the nearest sources of load (demand) by the local utility," Sloan said.

Cypress Creek will hold a community meeting to discuss the project and address questions and concerns at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Centre Hall Lions Club, 153 E. Church St., Centre Hall.

A public hearing on the conditional use application is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday at the Potter Township building, 124 Short Road, Spring Mills. Wallace said because the project is for electricity generation, it falls under "essential services," which qualifies as an allowed use. Township supervisors will have the option of attaching reasonable conditions and voting on Monday following the public hearing. Otherwise they have 45 days to act on the application.

Neighboring property owner James Kerlin, whose land overlooks the proposed project site, said he understands the benefits of solar energy, but he has several concerns about the project.

Among them is "the loss of excellent agricultural land and habitat to an unsightly commercial venture."

Sloan said that the array is constructed such that the land can be returned to agricultural use in the future.

"A ground-mounted solar farm of this type involves ground-mounted racking that is affixed to pile-driven steel beams that is all easily removed at the end of the project's life cycle," he said. "A solar farm is a temporary land use and nothing that we install should be considered permanent infrastructure or cause harm to the top soil. This acreage can one day again return to agriculture operations if the land owner chose and in the meantime will provide a diversified source of income to said land owner."

Kerlin said he will need to hear from Cypress Creek representatives at the community meeting, but he also worries that because, like most municipalities, Potter Township does not have an ordinance specifically related to solar array facility construction, the project is moving through too quickly.

"There is clearly a rush to get necessary approvals signed off quickly before the public and their elected officials can understand the short-term as well as long-term effects of large-scale solar field projects," Kerlin said. "It is absurd that when the Township wishes to put picnic facilities and hiking trails in the Colyer Lake area that environmental impact must be duly considered, while an extensive project of this nature does not apparently require prudent advanced consideration."

Kerlin added that he believes construction and traffic to the site during development will cause disruption to the surrounding area. He's also concerned the solar array will negatively affect the value of his and other neighboring properties, but added that his concerns would remain if it were proposed for similar land elsewhere in the township that his property does not adjoin.

"While in the long term there might be a net benefit to the region from this project, the offsetting negatives need to be publicly aired and considered by the community, Centre County, the townships, and the Commonwealth before this project receives approvals sufficient to begin construction," Kerlin said.

Sloan acknowledged there will be a temporary increase in traffic during construction for deliveries and personnel. But once completed the facility will produce no noise or additional traffic and landscaping will be installed around the perimeter, which along with existing features, Cypress Creek says will reduce visibility of the array.

He added that in other areas where Cypress Creek has developed, they have found no negative impact on neighboring property values.

"Cypress Creek Renewables is committed to developing projects that take into consideration the character of the area," Sloan said. "In North Carolina, after several years of significant solar farm development, extensive studies by local appraisers have found no negative impact on surrounding property values; appraisers in other states, including Oregon, have had similar findings. Due to the low-impact nature of the solar facility combined with proper buffering, no impact to the property values of neighboring property owners is expected."

Sloan said the company will incorporate feedback from nearby property owners in the site plan. Once constructed, he said, the solar farm will "require very little maintenance. Cypress Creek will service the inverters and as well as mow and weed."

Wallace said the conditional use application was reviewed by Potter Township Planning Commission, which, to his knowledge, did not have any adverse comment. If the application is approved by the supervisors, the project will have to go through the land development approval process before any construction can begin.

If ultimately approved, construction would take six to nine months, Sloan said. In addition to generating low-cost solar power to diversify the local power grid, Sloan said construction of the facility would create local spending for materials, goods and services and will result in increased local tax revenue.

According to the township zoning ordinance's criteria for a conditional use, the proposed use cannot negatively affect the neighborhood, including property values and "the economic, noise, glare, or odor effects of the proposed use on adjoining and nearby properties" cannot be detrimental.

Nine properties are listed in the conditional use application as abutting the proposed solar array site.

Wallace said the township has so far received some comments both in favor and against the project, though "not very many of either."

He added that he also is aware of different companies interested in other properties in the township for solar facilities.

"This probably won't be the last," Wallace said of Cypress Creek's conditional use application. 



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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