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It may be a smaller solar array, and the wind turbine has been scratched, but residents still opposed newly submitted plans for an alternative energy system next to Lehigh Elementary.
About 30 residents attended Wednesday night’s Lehigh Township Planning Commission meeting to hear more about the plan, proposed by MetroTek, the company that would build it for the Northampton Area School District.
The three planners who heard the matter, along with residents, weren’t convinced the project is allowed at that site. For planners, it came down to a single issue: their belief that the solar farm, because it’s to make money producing power for the grid, is a business. And two businesses aren’t permitted under the zoning on the property along 800 Blue Mountain Drive.
“I would definitely say it’s a commercial use,” planner Cynthia Miller said.
“If it looks like a skunk, it smells like a skunk and it is a skunk,” Chairman David Shulman agreed.
But it is the Zoning Hearing Board that will decide whether the solar array is a commercial enterprise when it meets Feb. 3. So the Planning Commission, an advisory board, instead made a list of recommendations the township should require of the Kunkletown company in the event the project advances.
MetroTek is proposing a 1.3 megawatt-producing solar array field on property owned by the school district. It would build another, slightly smaller solar farm next to Moore Elementary. Combined, the projects would produce 100 percent of the schools’ energy needs.
In exchange for giving MetroTek an easement to use just under five acres next to Lehigh Elementary to place the panels, the district would buy energy at a fixed rate. The power purchase agreement between the district and MetroTek guarantees a minimum of $2 million in savings over 20 years but could be as high as $4 million, depending on fuel costs, said MetroTek’s engineer Robert Toedter.
The easement replaces the lease that had initially been proposed between the sides.
Resident Jennifer Miller wasn’t convinced residents stood to gain in any way, and she failed to get the specifics she sought in terms of how the arrangement worked between the company, the school district and the energy market.
“I’m missing where we’re really benefiting here,” Miller said. “Did you not come prepared? I find it appalling that you attend this meeting … and you don’t show up prepared.”
Residents weren’t the only ones frustrated with the lack of information officials provided.
Planner Shawn McGlynn said if the system produced an amount of energy equal to the needs of the district, that would go a long way toward addressing the problem of whether it was acting as a second business.
Among the recommendations planners made of future plans: requiring 50-foot setbacks on all sides of the system, designating an open space of at least 52,000 square feet, providing the terms of the easement between the district and MetroTek, giving details of the fence that will contain the panels and detailing exactly how much the company would receive in grants, energy credits and other sources of income.
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