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$75M solar farm proposed in Conewago Township

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Conewago Township officials are paving the way for construction of a proposed $75 million solar farm in the township.

A motion to grant a special exception to develop a solar electric generating farm was approved unanimously by the township’s zoning hearing board during a March 11 meeting.

The Strinestown Solar Farm project is spearheaded by Jay Schoenberger, principal and co-founder of the Dakota Power Partners, a Denver-based company that specializes in developing wind and solar energy farms. Schoenberger’s company was represented at the meeting by David Jones, an attorney at the York-based Stock & Leader law firm.

Jones said the company’s goal is to install 250,000 solar panels on 540 acres of farmland west of Conewago Creek and east of Bowers Bridge Road in the township.

Three farmers have leased land to the company, he said. While the length of the lease agreements was not disclosed, none of them can be extended beyond 50 years, he said.

Also included in the lease agreements is a stipulation that, if the solar farm ceases production, the land will be decommissioned and restored to farming, Jones said.

The project will take nine months to one year to complete and the company anticipates creating 150 to 250 jobs for construction, said Tim Staub of Herbert, Rowland & Grubic Inc., a Swatara Township-based engineering firm that is consulting on the project.

When the construction is finished, two to five full-time jobs will be required to maintain the farm, Staub said.

Staub also said it will be easy to restore the farmland, as it will not be altered to add water, sewer and other infrastructure. Very little permeable material, such as concrete, will be used on the land, he said.

“From an infrastructure standpoint, it’s very minimal,” he said.

Staub said that the solar farm would be buffered by vegetation and fencing and a driveway would be built to provide access for workers and emergency personnel. Openings in the fence could be designed to accommodate wildlife migration, he said.

David Capparelli, Dakota Power’s in-house engineer, said the land was attractive because of its flat topography and the presence of nearby transmission lines.

Five high-voltage transmission lines cross below the land, which is near Middletown-based Three Mile Island nuclear plant  and the East Manchester Township–based Brunner Island power plant.

Capparelli said the lines have high capacity and can easily transfer energy with minimal upgrades.

Jim Rethrox of Rethrox Farms, who is leasing land to Dakota Power, testified at the hearing that the financial incentive to lease the farmland for solar power was far greater than what the business could earn by farming it.

Rethrox said Dakota Power is one of six solar companies that have approached him with proposals for the land.

“It just looks like it makes sense for the future,” he said.

Jones said solar companies will be flocking to Pennsylvania over the next few years as a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s initiative to increase solar generation in the state.

In late 2017, the governor strengthened state incentives for solar energy, requiring that companies can claim solar renewable energy credits only if the solar energy in generated within the state. Previously, Pennsylvania allowed out-of-state producers to claim credits, Jones said.

A solar farm also has already proposed in South Middletown Township in Cumberland County.

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Maria Yohn Nease

Maria Yohn Nease covers banking, finance and York county. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at mnease@cpbj.com.

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