Whereas discuss of large-scale photo voltaic tasks continues to be on the minds of many Pennsylvania farmers and landowners, one query stays earlier than the business expands: The place will it go?
Throughout a Photo voltaic Regulation Symposium hosted by Penn State Extension on Nov. 16, Brook Duer, employees legal professional on the Penn State Middle for Agricultural and Shale Regulation, spoke in regards to the challenges of discovering photo voltaic farm tasks in Pennsylvania.
Whereas Ohio and New York have legal guidelines for putting in photo voltaic tasks, Pennsylvania doesn’t actually have a state authorities guaranteeing photo voltaic vitality.
“How did we get this far with out them?” Duer mentioned. “Web site management is likely one of the most vital issues for landowners.
“If the state authorities doesn’t wish to take any place on photo voltaic improvement, I’m afraid we’re left on the sidelines in comparison with different states, which makes it extra enticing for photo voltaic builders to return in. “
Duer expects the state Legislature to handle the position problem in January when the 2023-2024 legislative session begins. Nevertheless, with out particular siting standards, Pennsylvania farmers could face different obstacles in terms of finding a photo voltaic venture on their land.
One factor to think about, mentioned Duer, is the longer term use of the land after the photo voltaic lease expires. He believes that it’s unlikely that the land will return to agricultural manufacturing as soon as the photo voltaic venture is constructed and operational, even after the lease is accomplished.
“That connection to the grid could be very worthwhile to get again to agriculture,” he mentioned.
Whereas deserted mine lands and landfills seem to be enticing locations to construct a photo voltaic facility, Duer mentioned farmland stays a chief goal, because the Pennsylvania PULSE venture — an initiative which is clear vitality to supply virtually 50% of the state authorities’s electrical energy via photo voltaic – as centered on farm areas.
However there are caveats with some agricultural parcels that will prohibit any photo voltaic improvement.
Enrollment within the Clear and Inexperienced tax evaluation program could be a deterrent for photo voltaic, Duer mentioned, as a result of builders should pay seven years of tax financial savings earlier than they’ll construct. Photo voltaic will not be a permitted land use listed in Clear and Inexperienced.
Land enrolled within the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program can also be off-limits, Duer mentioned, as a result of photo voltaic era tasks should not acceptable makes use of beneath this system.
Maybe the largest limitation to photo voltaic improvement is farmland preservation, both via easements held by the state or non-public entities comparable to land trusts. Utility-scale photo voltaic tasks are “completely prohibited,” Duer mentioned, except electrical energy manufacturing for the usage of landowners.
In accordance with the Pennsylvania Division of Agriculture, Pennsylvania leads the nation with 6,044 preserved farms, totaling greater than 611,000 acres. Lancaster and Berks counties have probably the most easements, and Duer mentioned it is unlikely photo voltaic builders will goal these areas.
“These are areas of the state that we all know do not have photo voltaic tasks,” he mentioned. “There is no such thing as a method to put collectively a photo voltaic venture with out bumping right into a preserved farm.”
Along with Berks and Lancaster, Duer talked about Bucks, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery and Northampton as different counties the place it’s tough to plan a worthwhile photo voltaic venture, which additionally consists of the set up of transmission traces.
One other impediment, he mentioned, is the native authorities. Many cities would not have their zoning ordinances up to date to handle the potential of photo voltaic improvement. In such cases, a proposed venture would doubtless fall beneath a conditional use software, Duer mentioned, which may contain denials and years of litigation.
One of the best answer to offer readability for land use and photo voltaic tasks is to debate the matter on the state degree, he mentioned.
“The location coverage will assist. The brand new legislative session must be a really attention-grabbing one as we take a look at the payments developing on this matter,” mentioned Duer.