By Leon Bogdan
October 23rd, 2020
DANVILLE — A proposed solar farm in northern Montour County could bring 130 new construction jobs to the area along with $1 million in committed contributions to benefit local organizations and community projects through the life of the facility, developers said Thursday.
Talen Energy hopes to develop a commercial solar energy farm on more than 1,000 acres it owns in Anthony and Derry townships, as well as Madison Township in Columbia County, near its steam electric plant.
Dubbed Montour Solar One, the solar farm is being eyed on largely agricultural or forest land and would be a 100-megawatt facility capable of generating enough electricity from sunlight to power up to 20,000 homes.
Talen is partnering with Pattern Energy Group, a west coast-based company that develops and operates utility wind and solar power storage and transmission facilities throughout the United States and Canada as well as Japan and Mexico. Representatives of both firms hosted a 45-minute teleconference Thursday night with local residents to address concerns about how the project might impact the environment, wildlife and local economy.
The idea is being studied by Montour County Planning Commission, which may draft proposed zoning changes regarding solar farms in agricultural and forest lands after hearing from residents about the project.
“We want to be as open and engaging as we can be,” remarked Jenn Ritchey of Pattern Energy. Both she and Joey Shannon of Talen Energy, which employs about 300 people at its Washingtonville plant and 900 others at Susquehanna nuclear plant near Berwick, assured callers of being “good neighbors and partners in the community” if the project goes through.
Last 35 years or more
The operating life of the solar farm, if allowed to proceed to construction by mid-2021 as hoped, is expected to be 35 or more years. Some equipment may need to be repaired or replaced over time, they said. After that, the land is required under real estate agreements to be restored to its prior condition. That means all equipment must be removed and solar panels could then be recycled for other generating sites.
Banks of solar panels would be sited in breaks through the land and spread out strategically so as to not harm wetlands or wildlife migrating areas, while the panels themselves are seen as environmentally safe, the developers said. Among questions asked regarding economic and environmental impacts was one concerning why Montour County, the smallest county in the state, was chosen for such an expansive solar farm. “We’re been hearing demands for new renewable energy in Pennsylvania,” Ritchey said. “And Montour is a good spot on an existing power transmission system and accessible land close to the transmission system.”
All power generated by the solar farm would be sent into Talen’s overall power grid and not directly used by local homes or consumers, they explained.
Solar panels safe
The solar panels are safe under normal operating conditions, developers say. They consist of a glass cover and metal casing housing chemical components inside that help convert sunlight into energy. A fence would be built around the edge of the project, using vinyl slats or vegetation planted to block sight of the panels. The panels also are designed at “a pretty low profile” to minimize glare and absorb as much sunlight as possible to product electricity, Ritchey pointed out. “We’re very aware we have some nearby neighbors, so there will be visual screening to minimize view of the panels,” she stated. And while solar panels are silent, inverters used to convert energy and tracking motors used to follow the sun throughout the day can be heard, but not any louder than normal background noise, they added.
Withstand a hurricane
Such solar projects are designed to withstand strong winds, rain, hail and even a hurricane, developers said. Lightning studies are also performed by the construction team to minimize any harmful effects as well, they said. Ian Evans, also with Pattern Energy, said the Montour studies included looking at potentially sensitive environment areas to avoid as many natural features such as trees, wetlands and waterways as the project gets underway.
Also, property values should not be affected, nor should property taxes on any neighboring land, they said.
While the solar farm will use Talen’s unused land, Ritchey said the proposed project already has drawn interest from private landowners and nearby farmers as well, looking to see if any additional land may be needed.
There has been no negotiations on adding land to the solar farm to date, she said.