Colora landowner defends solar farm project

The owner of this almost 32 acre former corn field in Colora said neighbors need to learn more about why he made the decision place a solar farm there. If approved it could become home to 6,630 solar panels.

QUARRYVILLE, Pa. — John Harnish bought the 31.495 acre plat of farmland off Liberty Grove Road in 2013 with the plan to put it into preservation, as he had done with a nearby 124.5 acre parcel purchased at the same time from Steve Balderston.

However, since the property was not contiguous to another preserved tract and was less than the minimum of 50 acres, it could not be entered into the program offered by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation program.

“I bought it for agriculture,” Harnish said recently. However, growing soybeans, corn or wheat on 32 acres is not a worthwhile endeavor, he said. Renting the land to a solar project is though. “It’s 10 times the profitability.”

“That makes it attractive,” he said.

Harnish thinks he saw an advertisement in an agriculture publication about large scale solar projects and inquired. He had already put a smaller 350 kW solar array on his chicken farm south of Lancaster, Pa., about 10 years ago. His neighbors have never complained, he added.

That’s why all the push back the project in Colora has been getting is surprising to him. After reading the Cecil Whig and the Colora Preservation Society Facebook page posts, Harnish said he wished people would have done more research and learned there would be no impacts to the community.

“This should not have any more run-off than agriculture,” he said. “Rainwater will go down into the sod.”

In the application it states the project would have no impact on services such as schools, public safety, trash removal or water and sewer, plus no noise or pollution. Harnish noted such would not be the case if homes were built on the site, which would add roads and driveways; all impervious surfaces.

“The people against this should do their due diligence,” he said. “I’m surprised they didn’t have some of their facts straight.”

If approved, the Alder Energy project would create as much as 2 mW of solar power. Harnish said Delmarva Power has not yet decided if it will accept the solar generator onto its grid.

“It’s kind of out of my hands. I have a signed agreement with Alder,” he said. It’s a 25-year contract.

Timothy Stokes, senior communications specialist with Delmarva, said since the Maryland Public Service Commission has already approved the project, the utility has sent Alder Energy its Requirements Document.

“This document consists of many connectivity requirements, including the overall price of such a project for the developer. At this time, we continue to work closely with the developer in regards to this project,” Stokes said via email. “Should the developer decide to move forward with the project, we will work with them to connect their project to the local energy grid--as we would with any interested developer.”

An April 19 hearing is scheduled before the Cecil County Planning Commission and April 27 before the Board of Appeals for a special exception to the Northern Agricultural Residential zoning.

“Power Generation Facilities are permitted in the NAR zoning district by Special Exception conditioned on the power is generated from solar, wind, or water resources,” said Stephen O’Connor, acting director of the Cecil County Department of Land Use and Development Services.

Once all the approvals are in hand, Harnish said construction would start quickly and be finished in as little as two months.

At that same meeting another solar project will be reviewed; this one is being proposed by Nexamp on Freyer Lane in Conowingo. That’s 36.3 acres, also zoned NAR.

Harnish has not decided yet what would happen to the remaining 19 acres on his tract.

“It would have been preserved. It didn’t work out that way,” he said.

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