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North Annville supervisors deny application for controversial solar farm

With the sound of applause erupting in the Union Water Works Fire Hall Tuesday night, North Annville Supervisors quickly voted against a controversial solar farm proposal.

Matthew Toth, Lebanon Daily News

With the sound of applause erupting in the Union Water Works Fire Hall Tuesday night, North Annville Supervisors quickly voted against a controversial solar farm proposal.

Officials denied a conditional use permit under the township’s zoning laws on the proposed 858-acre solar farm project. A series of hearings started in late January, and most residents who spoke at them denounced the plans.

Supervisors held an executive session on March 30 “for the purpose of reviewing the finding of fact,” board president Randy Leisure said at Tuesday’s meeting. Supervisors also met in executive session for less than 10 minutes before voting Tuesday.

The vote was 2 to 0, with Leisure and vice president Clyde Meyer voting to deny the application. Supervisor Adam Wolfe abstained from voting, saying three of the parcels in the proposed project were owned by his extended family.

“I think the board looked at the application in relation to the conditions that were required, and determined (Lebanon Solar) did not comply with all the conditions,” Township solicitor Paul Bametreider said.

Lebanon Solar 1 sought a conditional-use permit under the township’s zoning ordinance for a site west of Route 934.

Representatives of Lebanon Solar I, a component of Enel North America, have said the project would span 12 parcels of land that includes land owned by nine families, with eight leases and one buyout.

The project would produce 70 to 100 megawatts, with the expected lifespan of the project to be between 30 to 35 years.

Lebanon Solar I representatives did not comment after Tuesday’s meeting. In a statement emailed to the Lebanon Daily News, Eric Holton, Senior Development Manager Development at Enel Green Power, said the company is evaluating options.

“Enel Green Power is grateful for the interest from residents of North Annville Township in the Lebanon Solar Project,” he said in his statement. “We’re confident that the project we presented meets all applicable ordinances and will provide substantial benefits to the citizens of North Annville Township and Lebanon County. While we had hoped for Conditional Use approval at tonight’s hearing, we are evaluating our next steps.”

To be approved, the project needed to meet the township’s eight criteria for conditional use. This included questions about whether the panels were impervious materials and total acreage of the project.

The planned solar installation will cover multiple farms.

The project as a whole is larger than the township’s minimum requirement of 50 acres for a solar farm. But Attorney Bill Cluck, who represents township residents opposing the project, said in the January meetings that the 12 separate lots cannot be considered as one solar farm. 

Individually at least two of the lots are less than 50 acres, which Cluck said does not meet the criteria for approval.  

Cluck has also questioned whether the plan would meet the requirement that less than 50% of the lot be covered in impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces allow little or no storm water to filter into the ground.

“It was the right decision,” Cluck said after the meeting, adding that Lebanon Solar attorneys filed a claim in county court regarding the procedures of the hearings. “They didn’t meet the criteria, but they’re arguing this doesn’t matter cause there was a deemed approval that happened in September.”

Residents shared concerns at the January hearings about the project, including potential declining property values, noise pollution, and the destruction of scenic views.

“We know that 61% of the land is prime agricultural land and taking it out of agriculture production would be both against what is advised in (Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code) and the regional plan,” resident Grady Summers said at the Jan. 26 hearing.

Many residents also said there has been a lack of transparency about repeated changes in the project, potential danger of the batteries, and the danger of destroying scenic views in the area.

 Officials said the township’s planning commission also recommended denying the petition before Tuesday’s vote.

Matthew Toth is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. Reach him at mtoth@ldnews.com or on Twitter at @DAMattToth.

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