Hundreds turn out to discuss solar energy system project slated for southern Adams County

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LITTLESTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — A proposal for a massive solar panel project slated for southern Adams County drew hundreds to Littlestown Area High School Wednesday night for the first of several public hearings.

The Brookview Solar One, LLC project would span nearly 1,000 acres and possibly mean millions in tax money for Mount Joy Township.

Developers for Brookview — a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC. of Florida — are asking for a conditional use permit in order to install the solar panel system on 26 different parcels currently owned 18 different landowners.

The company says the project is a low-impact development, one that will not only boost the tax base but also help struggling farmers once again reap benefits from their land.

“I’m just at the point where I just don’t have the cash to put the crop out anymore,” farmer David Updyke said.

He says it’s a struggle financially to operate his farm the way he has for the last 23 years. With retirement still a few years away, Updyke has entered into talks with Brookview to install solar panels on 100 acres of his land and essentially lease out space for a profit. He is one of several landowners who said at Wednesday’s public hearing that the “harvest” is promising.

“Ballpark, it’s probably three times what you could earn growing corn or beans,” Updyke said. “It’s a way for us landowners to keep our land. In 25 years, they can either renew our contracts or put it back the way it was and go back to farming. I’m at the point where I’m looking for retirement and by the time this goes through, if it does, I’ll be retirement age. I don’t want to keep working until I’m 80. Something’s gonna happen to these farms, and solar is probably the least impact on the community.”

That low impact is what Brookview cites as a major plus to their proposal.

“This project will impose no burden on police services, no burden on fire services, no burden on ambulance services, no burden on your sewer system,” Brookview attorney Paul Minnich said.

He explained that Brookview’s application for a conditional use permit only applies to 374 acres of land along the Baltimore Pike Corridor, and not the 731 acres of land located in what is considered the Agricultural Conservation zone. Minnich said township law already permits solar panel use in an AC zone, therefore, those parcels are not up for discussion or inclusion at any of the public hearings.

Along the corridor, Brookview plans to use 374 acres of land with only about 160 acres actually built upon, Minnich said.

“The township zoning ordinance requires setbacks and visual screening and buffering that will make the solar panels barely visible and will actually improve the streetscape along the Baltimore Pike Corridor,” Minnich said, to laughter from the audience.

Those who oppose the project are worried about the “solar look” and changes to their rural countryside.

One man who worked in the energy industry for four decades says solar isn’t the way to go.

“You can’t get rid of nuclear and coal and say OK, we’re just gonna have solar,” Carl Gatzke said. “As far as generating power, you need turbines, you need generators, you need water power, you need coal, you need nuclear.”

According to the company, this project could generate up to $10 million in property taxes over its lifespan and create 150 construction jobs as well as two to three permanent jobs.

Minnich added that to meet township ordinances, bonds will be issued to set funds aside that will help restore the farmland to its original state in 25 to 30 years once the solar panel’s life cycle is over.

Brookview estimates the commercial operation of the solar energy system could begin as early as 2022.

There is another public hearing set for next Wednesday at 7 p.m., also at Littlestown Area High School.

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