59,373 panels, 86 acres, 36,000 megawatts: Solar farm planned in Antrim Township
A solar project with more than 59,000 panels is on the horizon in southwestern Antrim Township.
On Aug. 10, township supervisors dialed in on the conditions under which Ogos Energy LLC can establish a utility-scale solar project at 2359 E. Weaver Road. The array will include, at full size, 59,373 solar panels on 86 acres of the 149-acre tract.
The vote on the project, likely to be taken at the supervisors' Aug. 24 meeting, is a formality because solar farms must be allowed in the township as a conditional use, because they are not addressed in township zoning ordinances.
"Utility scale solar farms are required to be conditional uses in the zoning districts that best fit since it is not specifically listed in any zoning district," Sylvia House, township zoning officer, testified at a conditional use hearing before the township supervisors and planning commission on July 27.
Supervisors can place conditions on the project, but House testified, "The development may not be stopped."
About the project
Michael Miller, chief executive officer of Ogos Energy, spoke and provided written testimony at the hearing. He said the company has a contract to purchase the property, which is currently farmland, from 2007 Weaver Road LLC.
Ogos Energy and partners Earth and Air Technologies and Standard Solar Inc. want to install the array on the property bordered by Williamsport Pike and East Weaver Road. The team has done many scale solar projects, including the Fort Indiantown Gap training center.
Miller put the project cost between $26 million and $29 million.
At its full proposed size, the Antrim Township site "would produce approximately 36,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity from a clean, renewable source," Miller testified. "The electricity would be sufficient to power 3,000 typical homes and would substantially reduce the emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases compared to traditional energy alternatives."
Electricity from the project could eventually be available to local residents if Pennsylvania lawmakers implement "community solar," which is under consideration, Miller explained.
For now, Ogos has applied to the regional electric grid operator PJM for interconnection.
The tract is zoned low-density residential, and Miller compared the project's impact to the construction of houses, with two per acre translating into 300 homes needing infrastructure like water and sewer, schools and fire and police protection.
There would be noise during the 12-month construction period, but not during the 25 years of operation, Miller said. The plan includes stationary "fixed tilt" panels with no motorized parts.
"As we will often repeat, solar is a passive, non-intensive usage, which operates in a noise-free, odor-free, low traffic and non-nuisance fashion," according to Miller, who also outlined plans for landscaping screening such as evergreens.
Solar panels degrade over time and would be redone or decommissioned after 25 years, Miller said.
"With our proposed Weaver Road site, we have a willing landowner, a viable path to electrical interconnection and an adequately sized parcel that can be developed without substantially altering its natural features," Miller said.
"We believe our application and this testimony supports the conclusion that our proposed project can be approved, constructed and operated with the public health, safety and welfare, and comfort and convenience of nearby residents and the general public," he continued.
Property owners speak out
Some nearby property owners did not agree with Miller and spoke against the project even though it cannot be stopped.
"I am firmly against the approval and installation of the proposed solar project," said Thomas Meals, who owns 15 acres to the south and west of the site. He said he believes landowners have a right to use their property as they like as long as it does not negatively impact the community and adjacent properties.
"This project will negatively impact my property and all properties along Williamsport Pike and East Weaver Road," Meals said, citing loss of views of "idyllic farms, crops and cows"; little community benefit, including "why should this community degrade its small-town look and feel for energy needs miles away?'"; being able to see the panels even if they are screened due to the rolling hills of the location; impact on groundwater; glare; and what may happen healthwise if the panels, containing toxic compounds, are damaged during a storm.
Kenneth Kiser, who lives on East Weaver Road, said the solar farm is going to be in his back yard and, like Meals, thinks the sloping of the property means landscape screening may not protect the view.
He also referenced a University of Rhode Island study on the impact of solar farms on home values based on 425,000 transactions between 2005 and 2019. Kiser said the study showed values declined 1.7% for homes within one mile and 7% for homes within 1/10th of a mile.
Thomas Myers, who owns the 45-acre Antrim Stone Mill parcel to the north and east, said he speaks for future owners of the 72 lots he wants to develop who won't want solar panels there.
He is especially concerned about what happens after 25 years when "someone's got to clean it up."
House provided a potential list of conditions at the July hearing, and the planning commission followed up at its meeting on Aug. 2, tweaking the proposed conditions.
Supervisors made some condition modifications of their own on Aug. 10 before turning the list over to solicitor John Lisko for final preparation.
Myers, who attended all three meetings, said the biggest concern people have called him about is what happens after 25 years if the site is decommissioned.
"People want to be comfortable with the cleanup process," he said. "In 25 years, I won't be here, but my grandkids will."
Under the conditions, Ogos Energy is responsible for decommissioning the panels, which includes removing and disposing of them and restoring the site to predevelopment condition.
In case the company declares bankruptcy, abandons the project or fails to complete the work, it will be required to provide a bond to cover 110% of cleanup costs. Lisko likened the bond to an insurance policy to cover expenses if the township must do the job.
The amount of the bond will be set by township engineers and reviewed every two years as costs rise.
"All I'm asking for is for them to be held accountable," Myers said.
The conditions also include mowing twice a year and planting screening.
Supervisors want an escrow account for site maintenance, pointing to a fairly new solar array near Upton where the grass is high and trees are dying.
"Hopefully they will maintain it, and we won't need it," said Supervisor Fred Young. The amount of the cash maintenance bond also will be set by township engineers.
Other conditions involve 6-foot chain link fencing topped by barbed wire; land development and stormwater regulations; conservation easements for wetlands, flood plains, steep slopes and woodlands; dual ag uses such as pollinator ground cover, apiaries, wildflowers, low ground cover crops and grazing of livestock; and copies of the glare study from Ogos' proposal.