Borough solar farm clears next hurdle with township

By on March 2, 2016
Foxchase’s Sean Molignoni, Doug Graybill and Steve Graybill, from left, with its solar panels.

Foxchase’s Sean Molignoni, Doug Graybill and Steve Graybill, from left, with its solar panels. Foxchase erected its solar-panel field  back in 2010.

Ephrata Borough’s efforts to develop a tract of land in Ephrata Township for use as a solar farm cleared a key hurdle Tuesday evening as township supervisors approved the project’s land development plan.

Tuesday evening’s action by township supervisors was the culmination of an effort by the borough to construct the solar project on land it owns in the township between Route 272, Springhouse Road and Trout Run Road adjacent to Waste Water Treatment Plant #2 and the former state police barracks.

This project is important for the borough in that it adds a local aspect to its portfolio of resources providing electric power to borough power customers. By adding the solar farm, the borough hopes to add not only a bit of diversity to that portfolio to hedge against the impact of unforeseen market forces upon electric rates, but also gain significant other benefits, as well. The borough has been continually seeking ways it can stabilize or cut borough electric rates over the past several years.

Borough Manager Bob Thompson, who was on hand for Tuesday evening’s meeting, said the borough hopes to save up to 25 percent per year just on the cost of transporting that power from the source to the borough grid, since the power would be traveling on borough-owned transmission lines across only a few miles at most.

Thompson also said that the new solar farm is expected to generate gross power of 3.7 mega-watts per day or 3.1 net mega-watts on state-of-the-art solar panels which track the sun’s rays across the sky each day to maximize the amount of power it can collect. The panels are designed to pivot and move on their own in order to maximize the amount of energy they can collect.

“Even better, this is a renewable energy source,” Thompson said.

As if to unofficially highlight that point, the majority of supervisor questions raised Tuesday evening had more to do with the special grasses already being seeded at the property and far less with the short and long-term environmental impact of the project. A special breed of grasses have already been seeded at the property, which have two different growing seasons and require very little mowing.

Township supervisor Clark Stauffer is concerned with how the grass might grow and how tall it might be allowed to grow between mowings. Stauffer was reminded that at the point the project is concluded, the borough would be required to decommission and deconstruct the equipment, returning the tract of land to it’s original condition.

Thompson confirmed that the borough agreed to these conditions.

Tuesday evening’s action by the supervisors approved a number of requested waivers and modifications, including a request to waive requirement of a preliminary plan so that the borough could go right to the final plan. Requirements for sidewalks, street trees and street improvements were also deferred until the township might determine these are necessary.

Thompson said Tuesday’s action by the supervisors clears the path for the borough to begin site work and prepare to find a contractor to build, maintain and operate the facility.

“The borough will construct transmission lines overhead to carry the power from the solar farm to our grid,” explained Thompson.

The vote also allows the borough to begin finding the right developer to build and maintain the site and then sell the electric to the borough. The borough is looking to make a 25 to 30 year commitment to this project with the lease.

The borough is hoping to begin work on the project as soon as the weather is conducive to construction.

At a recent township meeting, the supervisors discussed damages caused by snow plows during the January blizzard which yielded upward of two-plus feet of snow. The township received at least one report of a snapped off mail box post in connection with the storm. While regulations on distances mailbox posts should be from the road are set by the Unites States Postal Service, the “gray area” may be how far they hang out over the road.

Supervisors indicated they had informally looked at the various mailboxes throughout the area and found a great variety of distances from the curbs. While the January storm was rare in its severity, homeowners bear responsibility for marking the location of their mailboxes so that snow plows are able to see them and for maintaining the structural strength of their posts.

Homeowners uncertain of USPS regulations for the placement of their mailbox posts should contact their local post offices for information.

In the end, supervisors voted to cover the costs associated with replacing the sole mailbox post damaged by a snowplow in the storm.

With regard to that snowstorm, Sawyer updated supervisor on the costs incurred by the township from Jan. 22-24. Overtime wages for four men in the maintenance department amounted to 144 hours costing the township $5,265.72. Private contractors provided two tractors, equipment and 58 hours at an additional cost of $6,487.50. One hundred tons of salt, 25 tons of anti-skid cost $7,218.25. The total cost for the snow event totaled $18,971.50.

Sawyer explained that the total 2016 snow budget for overtime, contractors and materials is $60,000. Due to the state of emergency declared by Gov. Tom Wolf and the size of the snow storm, Ephrata Township, along with most other local municipalities, will be reporting the costs of their snow clean up efforts to state agencies with the possibility they may qualify for reimbursement should PEMA or FEMA funds become available.

Reporting these costs is the first step in seeing if the storm will qualify as a qualifying reimbursable event at the state or federal level, though with record snowfall levels, township leaders feel it should qualify.

For additional information on Ephrata Township, please visit their website at www.ephratatownship.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

About Patrick Burns

Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

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