From coal to so­lar: For­mer mine land could be­come panel farm

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - BY KENT JACK­SON STAFF WRITER

BUT­LER TWP. — So­lar pan­els might pro­duce power on coal land.

Te­i­chos En­ergy of Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton, has been study­ing the po­ten­tial for build­ing a so­lar en­ergy farm in Up­per Le­high on 300 acres of re­claimed mine land that it would lease from Pag­notti En­ter­prises.

Jim Voorhees of Te­i­chos at­tended a work ses­sion on Thurs­day morn­ing to in­tro­duce the idea to the town­ship su­per­vi­sors.

The land is off Prospect Road, where Te­i­chos is con­sid­er­ing a lease of ap­prox­i­mately 30 years.

Asked if stud­ies so far sug­gest that the idea is fea­si­ble, Voorhees said, “We have a very strong con­fi­dence.”

Ob­tain­ing ap­provals and con­struct­ing the $80 mil­lion plant would take about two years, he said.

The plant could gen­er­ate 40 megawatts, enough to power more than 4,400 homes in Penn­syl­va­nia us­ing an es­ti­mate of the So­lar En­ergy In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion.

So­lar pan­els would go to­gether much like chil­dren’s in­ter­lock­ing blocks and stand no higher than 8 feet in a fenced-in farm.

After con­struc­tion ends, traf­fic would dwin­dle to work­ers who would visit in­fre­quently to do main­te­nance.

The only noise would come from mo­tors that turn pan­els to track the sun, from cool­ing fans and from an elec­tri­cal sub­sta­tion.

While the site is zoned for in­dus­try, Te­i­chos would re­quire a spe­cial ex­cep­tion from But­ler’s zon­ing board to de­velop a so­lar farm there.

Re­duc­ing the size of a buf­fer, which the town­ship’s zon­ing code sets as wide as 1,000 feet wide in some in­stances, also would re­quire ap­proval of the zon­ing board.

Within an in­dus­trial zone, the code sets a height limit of 20 feet. While the so­lar pan­els would be smaller than that, some parts of the sub­sta­tion might ap­proach that height.

Don­ald Kar­powich, the town­ship’s so­lic­i­tor, said Te­i­chos also would need plan­ning board ap­provals from the town­ship and Luzerne County and a ap­proval for land de­vel­op­ment from the su­per­vi­sors.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Brian Kisen­wether, chair­man of the su­per­vi­sors, said after the meet­ing.

When Kar­powich pointed out that the sun doesn’t shine as much in Penn­syl­va­nia as in some other states, Voorhees said a law signed last year gives de­vel­op­ers in­cen­tives to in­stall so­lar farms in the state.

The act re­quires com­pa­nies to build plants in the state if they want to gain cred­its for gen­er­at­ing al­ter­na­tive en­ergy. Pre­vi­ously, com­pa­nies could ob­tain cred­its for power gen­er­ated out of state.

Util­ity firms pur­chase cred­its to prove they ob­tain a por­tion of their power from al­ter­na­tive sources, as state rules re­quire. So sales of per­mits sup­ple­ment in­come that com­pa­nies like Te­i­chos make from sell­ing power.

Nils Ha­gen-Fred­erik­sen, press sec­re­tary for the Penn­syl­va­nia Pub­lic Util­ity Com­mis­sion, said a re­cent re­port in­di­cates 39 per­cent of re­tired so­lar power cred­its came from Penn­syl­va­nia. Of the re­main­ing cred­its, 48 per­cent came from North Carolina, 5 per­cent from Ohio, 4 per­cent from Vir­ginia and the balance from sev­eral other states, Ha­gen-Fred­erik­sen said in an email.

Jac­qui Bonomo, a Ha­zle­ton na­tive and pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Penn Fu­ture, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group that ad­vo­cates for re­new­ables as part of the state’s en­ergy mix, said the new law will in­crease the power gen­er­ated from the sun in Penn­syl­va­nia and boost the value of the cred­its.

“It’s not sur­pris­ing to see a real move­ment on so­lar and wind here in Penn­syl­va­nia de­spite the fact that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion with­drew us from the Paris ac­cord,” Bonomo said of the 2015 agree­ment in which coun­tries pledge to re­duce car­bon emis­sions. “Busi­nesses un­der­stand the fu­ture is in re­new­ables (as) we start turn­ing away form fos­sil fu­els.”

De­vel­op­ers have al­ready iden­ti­fied ar­eas in Penn­syl­va­nia that get the most wind and have built or planned to in­stall tur­bines.

“The real op­por­tu­nity is in so­lar, I think,” Bonomo said, “as peo­ple ed­u­cate them­selves that so­lar en­ergy is not only vi­able in states that get a lot of ‘sunshine.’”

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