Thursday, May 26, 2022

Lawrence County Farmer Challenges Local Ordinance Prohibiting Installation Of Solar Energy Facilities On Farms Under State’s Right To Farm Act; Attorney General Reviewing

A Lawrence County farmer is challenging a local township ordinance that prohibits the installation of solar energy facilities on farms under the state’s
Right To Farm Act (ACRE - Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Program).

Under the Act, local ordinances that prohibit or limit “normal agricultural operations” are considered “unauthorized ordinances.”  The law sets up a process under the Office of Attorney General to review local ordinances brought to their attention by farmers and authorizes the Office to take steps to enforce the Act against “unauthorized ordinances.”

On March 28, farmer wrote to the Office of Attorney General requesting a review of an ordinance adopted by North Beaver Township in Lawrence County which bans the installation of solar arrays on farms.

The farmer’s name is being withheld by the Attorney General’s Office.

The farmer contends the definition of “normal agricultural operations” in the Act includes photovoltaic solar energy systems and language that says “... new activities, practices, equipment and procedures consistent with technological development within the agricultural industry.”

He points to the fact that “in present day application, wind, solar and geothermal energy is increasingly utilized by farmers.  Ed Johnstonbaugh, who leads the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Clean and Renewable Energy Program, recently put it this way: ‘In many ways, it’s like producing a crop 365 days a year, except that your crop is electricity.’”

The farmer also quotes the PA Farm Bureau in recent testimony as saying, “Our energy platform embraces an all-of-the-above approach that makes our country less dependent on foreign energy sources.  It also acknowledges that landowners are in the best position to determine how to use their land for energy development, be it for natural gas leasing, wind energy, or solar.”

The farmer concludes by saying, “This ordinance is unduly restrictive and strips away the right of farmers, and farmers alone, from utilizing their land to produce solar energy.”

Click Here for a copy of the letter to the Office of Attorney General.

The Office of Attorney General is actively reviewing Cvetan’s request under the Right To Farm Act and has requested North Beaver Township to respond to the review by no later than June 11.  Read more here.

Visit the AG’s ACRE webpage for more information.

ACRE Review Process

If the Office of Attorney General finds the ordinance to be in violation of ACRE, the Office and the local government will work together to bring the ordinance into compliance with state law.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are directed under ACRE to provide expert consultation for the Office of the Attorney General regarding the nature of normal farming operations in the Commonwealth. 

If a resolution cannot be reached, the Office of Attorney General may file a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court.

If the Attorney General decides not to file a lawsuit, the owner or operator may still pursue a lawsuit to challenge the local ordinance or action. The farmer may file his or her lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court, rather than a County Court of Common Pleas.

Click Here for additional information on ACRE from the PA Farm Bureau.

Proposed Solar Project

The solar project proposed on the farm is the “Firefly Solar Project,” a 200 MW utility-scale solar energy facility to be built by Vesper Energy.

An economic impact statement released by the company in March said the project will generate $1.6 million in municipal, county, state, and school taxes each year, create over 300 jobs during construction, and provide nearly $10 million in total economic activity in Lawrence County annually over the 40-year lifespan of the project.  Read more here.

A letter sent by the Mohawk Area School District to the North Beaver Township supervisors in April supports the project and the additional revenue it will mean to the district.  Read more here.


-- Post-Gazette - Anya Litvak: Solar Companies Carve Out Their Piece Of PA’s Farmland, Dividing The Farmers

Related Article:

-- Vesper Energy Developing 200 MW Solar Energy Project In Lawrence County

[Posted: May 26, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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