Solar plans on the rise near Hawley

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 3/15/22

PALMYRA TOWNSHIP, PA — A 50-acre solar farm with the capacity to power up to 600 homes may soon be coming to Wayne County, just outside of Hawley. The company looking to purchase the property, …

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Solar plans on the rise near Hawley

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PALMYRA TOWNSHIP, PA — A 50-acre solar farm with the capacity to power up to 600 homes may soon be coming to Wayne County, just outside of Hawley. The company looking to purchase the property, ECA Solar, is counting on action from state representatives to ensure that the proposed farm will see the light of day.

A Massachusetts-based commercial solar developer, ECA has existing community solar projects throughout New England and has been embarking on new projects in the mid-Atlantic region, according to development manager Martha Diezemann. She said that the company has been in business for eight years and first moved into Pennsylvania two years ago.

A couple of big power-users around Palmyra Township first attracted ECA to Wayne County.

“We were encouraged by [Pennsylvania’s] existing net-metering rules which allows us to build a three-megawatt solar farm and provide the power to a customer who’s within two miles of that solar farm,” Diezemann said. “That’s why we were interested in this property in Palmyra. It had the [Wallenpaupack Area] School District that was a mile away, and it also had a wastewater treatment plant nearby. Those are two larger power users we were interested in providing power to.”

She said that the site’s neighbor’s have been welcoming so far.

“The site is ideal for a solar array, and we have a lot of support from our neighbor which is [outdoor concert venue] Harmony in the Woods,” Diezemann said. “They’ve been very supportive, and we’ve been working with them on creating a buffer between the amphitheater and the solar array so there’s no disturbance.”

ECA first approached the Wallenpaupack school board, asking if it would be interested in tapping into the solar arrays to run its day-to-day operations through a long-term power purchase agreement at a discounted rate. After hiring consultants to perform a feasibility study, superintendent Keith Gunuskey reported back to the school board that it would not be in their best interests to make a long-term commitment.

Diezemann said that ECA is still planning to carry out the purchase of the property and the construction. However, there a couple key pieces of legislation currently pending in the state House and Senate that will determine how large of a customer base the for which the energy will be available.

ECA is currently restricted by the commonwealth’s two-mile radius rule. The passage of PA House Bill 1555 and Senate Bill 472, however, would create a statewide community solar program, which Diezemann said would allow ECA to sell the power produced by its solar arrays to anybody on the same electric utility.

“We could reach out to customers in Lackawanna County, for example,” she said.

Under a community solar program, ECA could provide 40 percent of the farm’s output to a large customer—like a local school district—and 60 percent to homeowners. In 2020, the Penn State Center for Economic and Community Development estimated that there were approximately 235 community solar facilities planned across Pennsylvania.

If constructed, these facilities “could generate a one-time, temporary $1.8 billion increase in economic output and 11,631 jobs in the commonwealth,” according to the study. “Once operating, these 235 community solar facilities annually will generate around $83.3 million in economic output, supporting 520 jobs across the Commonwealth.”

Penn State’s report also found that one three-megawatt facility, like the one planned for Palmyra Township, would save customers about $90,000 on their energy bills annually. Diezemann said that local residents who tapped onto the grid could expect to save around to 10 to 15 percent on their energy bills.

There’s support for these bills in both the state’s Democrats and Republicans parties. However, passage is no sure thing just yet.

“It’s tough to say right now if these bills will get passed this year,” Diezemann said. “It could go either way. It’s a little frustrating since the surrounding states all have community solar programs that have been introduced and passed.”

ECA’s goal is to have the solar farm constructed and operational by the summer of 2023. Diezemann said the company has received township approval already. Next, it will need approval on a land development plan through the PA Department of Environmental Protection, as well as approval from PPL Electric Utilities Corporation.

With the legislation and approval process still in hand, Diezemann said she’s feeling optimistic and eager to join the Wayne County community.

“We’re excited about the project and about becoming a part of the community,” she said. “I personally feel already a part of the community.”

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