Hopefully, the title alone has George Harrison’s acoustic intro playing in your head. If not, maybe this will help.
Here comes the sun (doo-doo-doo)
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right
The Beatles’ classic was not foretelling of the arrival of solar energy development projects in Pennsylvania, but it could serve as an anthem now.
Last month, Rachel McDevitt of StateImpact Pennsylvania published an article about the emerging solar energy development “boom” in Pennsylvania. The article is a wonderful deep dive into the recent growth of solar projects. It outlines the usual questions and concerns surrounding those projects.
McDevitt notes that the growth in solar development is tied in some ways to increasing demand for clean energy expressed by parts of corporate America. This demand occasionally is supported by federal and state government policies, but a green wave has yet to sweep across Pennsylvania’s rural landscapes. It will be interesting to see whether the Biden administration will usher in more support for clean and renewable energy projects like solar.
McDevitt highlights something this Blog has addressed many times before. Land use is regulated at the municipal level in Pennsylvania in over 2,500 cities, boroughs, and townships (and one town). McDevitt’s research indicates only approximately 9% of zoning ordinances in Pennsylvania currently address solar development. Like all other land uses, solar development must be permitted in every municipality in Pennsylvania. The critical questions are where should it be permitted and how should it be regulated.
McDevitt juxtaposes two projects located only miles apart in Adams County, but in two different municipalities. One project is permitted by conditional use and is facing significant opposition from neighbors who have retained an attorney. The other project is permitted by right and faces no identifiable opposition. This really is no different than any other land use in Pennsylvania – whether it be a warehouse, apartment complex or telecommunications tower – that sometimes are permitted by right and sometimes require conditional use or special exception approval.
McDevitt lays out (and analyzes the veracity of) some concerns often raised by opponents of solar projects. It is typical for opponents to express concerns about glare, impact to wildlife and potential impact on property values. The glare concern is a red herring as solar developments regularly are located on and near airports and military installations (where glare would be a major safety concern). The solar panel materials are designed to absorb rather than reflect solar energy. And there are as many studies suggesting solar developments increase nearby property values as there are studies to the contrary.
In reality, solar developments are among the least intensive land uses. They create almost no noise and generate minimal traffic (e.g. one or two visits a week). The ground beneath the panels remains undisturbed and pervious. In many ways, solar developments are less impactful to neighbors than the farming activities often already occurring on the solar development site.
We expect the number of solar projects in Pennsylvania to continue increasing in the coming years. Municipalities should be prepared and should amend or update their zoning ordinances to address solar development with reasonable regulations. Like any new land use, the initial reaction from residents may be skeptical, but remember . . . It’s all right.