CHERRYTREE TOWNSHIP, Venango County — The Cherrytree Township supervisors decided at a Monday meeting to table a vote on renewable energy zoning. After hearing public comment, the supervisors tabled the vote to allow for changes to be made to the ordinance by recommendation from the township solicitor, Alan Shaddinger .
The issue of renewable energy zoning is significant as multiple different energy companies have contacted Cherrytree Township landowners about installing 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 with plans to build the solar farm, usually enters into 40-year leases with landowners. The reason for the 40-year lease is that solar farms aren’t permanent. Eventually, the technology and location of the farms will become obsolete and need to be removed. The permanence 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 the supervisors. Recurrent Energies, another renewable energy company with 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. The township supervisors are deciding whether to zone the land for commercial use, or create a conditional residential use.
According to Steven Barna, of Recurrent Energies, it is rare to see solar farms zoned commercially. When the land is zoned commercially, if the energy companies were to back out, the land will remain zoned commercially.
When solar farms are built on conditional residential land, if the energy company backs out, the land immediately returns to normal residential zoning. Township Supervisor Jim Waugh was skeptical about commercial zoning. “Once it goes commercial, we get less control” said Waugh.
Some local residents, however, want to see the land zoned commercial. Resident Jamey Miller argued that the township is an agricultural town and its interests need to 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,” said Miller.
Other concerns were centered around stormwater management and impervious surfaces. Even though there is nothing covering the ground, residents are worried about water running off of the solar panels themselves. Nate Fox, a lawyer representing Cypress Creek renewables, wanted to assure residents that the storm water management was a non-issue. “We are the one’s on the hook for stormwater management,” Fox said.
Other residents were just confused why so many renewable energy companies were converging on Cherrytree Township. “Isn’t it weird that Cherrytree is all the sudden a hot bed of solar energy” said resident Tim McGrath.
According to both Cypress Creek and Recurrent Energies, the evolution of energy technology opens up new renewable energy markets. Renewable energy companies look for a couple key things when choosing solar farm sites. These factors include access to energy infrastructure, flatness of the land and interested land owners.
The representatives told residents that Cherrytree was a sweet spot of all those factors. When asked by residents if the companies had facilities in Pennsylvania they could visit, the energy companies told residents there were no facilities nearby that they could visit.
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