Officials Mull OK For Solar Array On Pa. Farmland
QUARRYVILLE, Pa. (AP) – Planners in one central Pennsylvania county are at odds with state officials over a proposal to put an 80- acre solar farm on agricultural land, even though the 20- by-8-foot glass panels would harvest only the rays of the sun.
Community Energy Inc. of Radnor has proposed building the solar farm in East Drumore Township, in southern Lancaster County. The company is asking the board of supervisors to pass an amendment allowing alternative and renewable energy uses in a district zoned for agriculture, saying solar farms are not expressly prohibited.
James Cowhey, executive director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, said he thinks that would set a bad precedent. Cowhey said agricultural areas are intended for farming crops, not sunlight, and if the measure is approved other developers may also argue that uses not specifically cited in zoning laws should be permitted.
But Russell Redding, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, says that the plan not only does not undermine farmland preservation, it is “a form of farmland preservation.”
“We have to look at every creative way we can to keep agriculture viable here in Lancaster County and in Pennsylvania,” Redding said.
V. Merrill Carter, chairman of the board of supervisors, said he is wary of the idea, and he noted that the size of the project has increased from 5 to 15 megawatts. But he said he is not really concerned about the effect on farm preservation efforts.
“We have 44,000 acres in East Drumore Township, and 5,000 acres in agricultural preserve,” Carter said. “I don’t think (the solar farm) will have any impact on farms in East Drumore.”
The county planning commission voted unanimously last month to recommend that township officials reject the project. In a statement clarifying their rationale, they called the solar farm a great project in the wrong location.
The planners warned of the dangers of opening up agricultural zoning districts “to a myriad of uses” through the company’s proposed zoning amendment. They also said the proposed ordinance contained no standards that would reduce impacts on prime agricultural soils.
“Let’s be clear about this: It is not necessary for solar farms to be located on prime agricultural soils,” they wrote.
Redding said Community Energy is exploring using space between the grids for a “cover crop,” and other parts of the site not taken up by grids could be used for “low planting, vegetable production.” He called the solar farm an asset for the state and county.
“You get the energy, harvesting the sun; you get a land use we believe consistent with agricultural preservation; and at the end, you revert back to the former use,” he said. “The idea of preservation is to keep land available for future years. That’s what this does.”