Wayne County info session to shed light on utility-scale solar farms

An in-person and online seminar shedding light on leasing private land for utility-scale solar farms is set for Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Wayne County Park Street Complex in Honesdale.

Increasing interest in these commercial projects in rural Wayne County has prompted concern that landowners be prepared, learning from lessons 15 years ago when leasing land for gas drilling spread across Pennsylvania's northern tier.

Wayne County Commissioner Chairperson Brian Smith requested Penn State Extension to conduct free informational webinars, one for township officials who need to consider how to revise or adopt ordinances to accommodate these arrays of panels and supporting infrastructure.

The second online seminar is for the benefit of landowners who developers may approach to use their acreage, much of it being fallow pastureland. The session is slated from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Stephen Alessi of Penn State Extension said that solar project development has become a popular topic in the last couple of years, and Penn State Extension has responded to be a resource for the public.

Park Street Complex is at 648 West Park St. County offices are located there, including Penn State Extension.

Smith raised concern to be sure landowners had the information they needed when utility-scale solar farm projects were being proposed in northern Wayne County earlier this year. Damascus and Lebanon Townships each approved their first solar farm project in February 2023, the same project overlapping their border.

More: A 5-MW solar project is approved in Damascus Twp. What else could be coming to Wayne?

That project between Rileyville and West Damascus consists of an array of 11,040 solar panels, about 700 feet off Route 371. It will cover about 21 acres, leased from private property owners. Once connected to the PPL electrical grid, the New Leaf Energy project will be able to power as many as a thousand homes.

Damascus, however, rejected a proposal in June for a different utility-scale solar farm in Tyler Hill which failed to meet their requirements. The township put a moratorium on future projects until the township zoning ordinance could be upgraded. A 50-acre project was approved near Hawley in late 2021, but the developers withdrew their plan in 2022.

Alessi said that the webinar for township officials held Sept. 7 had approximately 35 attendants.

Smith stated at a commissioners' meeting in July, "I think it's most important now to have the facts laid out for us by Penn State. It is similar to what they did with the gas industry. The devil is in the details with leasing."

A solar farm panel. Photo by Tom Murphy.
A solar farm panel. Photo by Tom Murphy.

The workshop will discuss large-scale solar development statewide. After a general update, it will focus on common leasing issues and concerns for landowners. Extension educators will interpret data found on PJM and PUC sites related to Wayne County.

Penn State presenters will also be joined by a local resident working on a solar project in the county.

Alessi said that the Extension's website has much information about solar projects. Read the Pennsylvania Landowners Guide to Utility-Scale Solar Leasing at extension.psu.edu

There will be time for questions and answers at the end of the program. Questions can be submitted in advance by contacting Peter Wulfhorst at ptw3@psu.edu or Stephen Alessi at spa15@psu.edu.

Anyone unable to attend in person may join online via Zoom at psu.zoom.us/j/91959177955; or by phone (U.S. toll): +16469313860,91959177955# or +13017158592,91959177955#.

For more information on Penn State Extension, Wayne County, call 570-253-5970, ext. 4110.

Peter Becker has worked at the Tri-County Independent or its predecessor publications since 1994. Reach him at pbecker@tricountyindependent.com or 570-253-3055 ext. 1588.

This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Solar farm leasing: Landowner info session set in Honesdale Nov. 28