15 August 2023- A sunny and beautiful day in Littlestown, Adams County played host to an event sponsored by Senator Doug Mastriano aimed at stopping large scale solar farms that would cover Pennsylvania’s rural farmland. Held at Newhart’s Iron Horse Bed and Breakfast that is also a large farm, Mastriano brought the Capital to his district to directly reach out to both constituents and business leaders.
“It’s not like we’re against solar, but we wanted to make sure it’s kind of… placed where it would have the least impact in terms of community mores”, said Mount Joy Chairman of Supervisors Bernie Mazer after the meeting.
This was a sentiment echoed by almost all the speakers at today’s event; it’s not that people are AGAINST solar facilities, but rather are concerned that solar plants are taking away valuable farmland that cannot be replaced.
Tom Newhart, one of the the farmers in the community around Mount Joy who directly opposed a 1,000 acre solar facility proposed in the Township in 2021, is the owner of the very bed and breakfast that Mastriano’s event was held at. Newhart has a large solar array on the side of his property, overlooking both the B&B and his plowed fields. But the key to Newhart is that this is placed on land that cannot be used for agriculture. This untillable land would be unproductive and is too close to structures.
Mastriano’s proposed bill, SB 798, would prohibit large-scale solar panel projects on land that the US Department of Agriculture designates as class one or class two, meaning they are the best for farming and crop production.
Mastriano said in a statement prior to the event “Pennsylvania has an abundance of brownfields – or old industrial sites – and abandoned strip mine land, capped landfills, warehouse roof tops and surface parking lots. These sites are not suitable for most types of development, but could be ideal for the growing solar industry.”
One of the spots directly referenced by Mastriano in his initial address at the even was the former Chambersburg Mall, which recently shuttered completely following years of stagnation.
The Senator’s proposed legislation would need to move through committee, the Senate, the PA House, and then the Governor beginning when the Legislature returns next month. In the meantime, however, municipalities can preemptively make sure that large-scale solar farms do not affect their farm land.
One model community for this was Mount Joy Township, who voted to reject a conditional-use permit that would have enabled a company to build 330,000 12-foot-high solar panels across 1,000 acres in total. That decision in 2021 could have allowed the company to build across 18 farms.
“The state allows what the Township can and cannot do. For example, cell towers. Townships have no say whatsoever with cell towers,” Mount Joy Supervisor Bernie Mazar continued. “There are certain things that were coming up with legislation about with these solar arrays that are going to be coming up to their end-of-life cycle.”
Mazar zeroed in on zoning as one of the main approaches that can be used by Townships to stop farms taking this prime real estate.
“Many of the Townships, especially in the more rural areas, they don’t have zoning. So if they don’t have zoning and if its of legal use, someone can just come in and say ‘hey, just give me a permit and this is what I’m going to do”, Mazar told News Talk 1037FM.
Mazar finished by saying, “Every Township has their own type of approach”.
Most of the event can be found on News Talk 1037FM’s Facebook Page HERE.