Local Government’s Perspective on Solar Farms
Last year the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (the “Association”) provided testimony before the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs and Local Government Committees on the local government perspective on solar farms. The Association represents Pennsylvania’s 1,454 townships of the second class.
Why is this testimony important? The Association is the predominant lobbying and professional association for second-class townships in Pennsylvania. Most Townships where solar farms are being proposed are members of the Association. These Townships regularly receive guidance and assistance from the Association, and because of this, Townships sometimes defer to the Association. Samuel F. Cressler, on behalf of the Association, presented the following testimony. It is helpful to revisit that testimony to understand the municipal landscape for solar projects in Pennsylvania.
Here is an overview:
Solar Farms are high on the Association’s radar
The Association understands that plans for commercial solar farms are springing up across the state. As a result, municipalities are tasked with reviewing and amending existing ordinances, or adopting new ordinances, to regulate this use. It seems that the Association is trying to force Townships to be proactive, as opposed to reactive, when it comes to this type of development.
The Re-Occurring Issues
The Association cited the following issues that seem to be cropping up regularly: view shed, glare, stormwater, security, fencing and the best location for these projects (with a focus on soil type). Some municipalities (with a high proportion of Class A Soils) are deciding to permit Solar Farms in an industrial zone rather than an agricultural or agriculturally-adjacent zone. With this testimony specifically, it seems that the Association is pushing Townships away from permitting solar farms in areas with prime farm soils.
The Association wants to ensure that the owners and operators are responsible for these projects after the facility is done operating. The Association also wants to know how long these leases actually last. Additionally, developers need to be ready to explain whether their solar panel equipment will need to be updated and replaced as a result of the rapidly shifting technology landscape.
Note: As everyone knows, the Pennsylvania legislature is looking to provide statewide decommissioning standards. You can find the current status of the legislation here and here.
Developers need to be weary proclaiming that Solar Farms will result in a significant increase in local tax revenue and local jobs. The Association understands that these facilities are not permanently attached to the ground, and therefore, they aren’t usually assessable for property taxes. Furthermore, the Association understands that the construction labor is short-term and will not necessarily be completed by the local community. Therefore, the Association does not view these projects as big job generators.
As an interesting aside, machinery, equipment, parts and supplies which are to be used in an electricity generating operation, are excluded from Pennsylvania Sales and Use Tax.
- Working in tandem with a Township to amend or even adopt a renewable energy ordinance is of the utmost importance.
- There still exist concerns that developers need to address immediately and appropriately (noise, glare, property value, stormwater, etc.).
- Addressing these issues up-front with a township by submitting a study or even a preliminary report early on in the zoning process can go a long way.
- It is still important to emphasize the benefits of renewable energy development, but don’t oversell (see tax assessment) when it is not needed. Be ready if you get little traction on these points.
If you have other specific questions about the Association’s recent thoughts, renewable energy, or anything related or unrelated, please don’t hesitate to call our firm at (717-845-1524) or email Andy Miller (email@example.com) or Cory Dillinger (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or comments.
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