CHERRYTREE TOWNSHIP, Venango County – Supervisors from Cherrytree Township decided at a meeting on Monday to cast a vote on zoning for renewable energy. After hearing public comment, supervisors tabled the vote to allow changes to the order on the recommendation of township lawyer Alan Shaddinger.
The issue of renewable energy zoning is important as several different energy companies have contacted landowners in Cherrytree Township regarding the installation of solar farms in the township.
Currently there are plans to build a 200 acre solar farm at 4200 William Flinn Highway. Cypress Creek Renewables, the company that plans to build the solar farm, typically enters into 40-year leases with the landowners. The reason for the 40-year lease is that solar farms are not permanent. Eventually, the technology and location of the farms will become obsolete and will have to be scrapped. The sustainability of these solar farms is at the heart of the zoning issue.
Cypress Creek Renewables had a representative at the meeting to observe and answer questions from residents and supervisors. Recurrent Energies, another renewable energy company that plans to build a solar farm in Cherrytree Township, also had representatives at the meeting.
Currently, the land that the solar farm would occupy is zoned for residential use. Township supervisors decide to zone the land for commercial purposes or to create conditional residential use.
According to Steven Barna of Recurrent Energies, it’s rare to see commercially zoned solar farms. When the land is commercially zoned, if the energy companies were to back down, the land will remain commercially zoned.
When solar farms are built on conditional residential land, if the power company pulls out, the land immediately reverts to normal residential zoning. Township supervisor Jim Waugh was skeptical of commercial zoning. “Once it gets commercial, we get less control,” Waugh said.
However, some residents wish to see the land zoned for commercial purposes. Resident Jamey Miller argued that the township is a farming town and its interests must be protected. “In practice, zoning is used to prevent new development from interfering with existing users and / or to preserve the character of the community,” Miller said.
Other concerns related to stormwater management and impermeable surfaces. Even though there is nothing covering the ground, locals fear that water will leak from the solar panels themselves. Nate Fox, a renewable energy attorney at Cypress Creek, wanted to assure residents that stormwater management was not an issue. “We are responsible for stormwater management,” Fox said.
Other residents did not understand why so many renewable energy companies were converging on Cherrytree Township. “Isn’t it strange that Cherrytree is all of a sudden a hot bed of solar power,” said Tim McGrath, a resident.
According to Cypress Creek and Recurrent Energies, developments in energy technology are opening up new markets for renewable energy. Renewable energy companies look for a few key things when choosing solar farm sites. These factors include access to energy infrastructure, the flatness of the terrain, and interested landowners.
Representatives told residents Cherrytree was a great place for all of these factors. When asked by residents if companies have facilities in Pennsylvania that they can visit, energy companies told residents that there are no nearby facilities that they could visit.
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