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Clarion Co. sets rules for solar and wind farms

CLARION – New rules are officially in place for constructing non-residential solar and wind farms in Clarion County.

At a recent meeting, Clarion County Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley unanimously approved two ordinances outlining guidelines and regulations for the development of solar and wind farms throughout the county.

“Keep in mind, [these are] for commercial,” Brosius pointed out of the new ordinances. “[They] will not affect anybody who wants to put solar panels on their home.”

According to the ordinance documents, the purpose of the ordinances is to “set requirements for non-residential” solar and wind energy systems in order to “promote the general health, safety and welfare of the community…”

“They basically just outline certain things that you have to do,” Tharan explained, pointing to similar state-mandated regulations in the oil and gas industry. The ordinances cover everything from defining a solar or wind farm, construction and decommission requirements, and more.

“I look at it as protecting the land and the people in Clarion County so there is a clear path,” he continued, noting specifically setbacks from adjacent properties as well as bonding requirements that will cover the cost of removal if a developer walks away from a site. “When it [a solar or wind farm] becomes unaffordable or it costs too much to repair, some companies will just walk away and let it go back to Tax Claim.”

Tharan also expressed concern about the long-term environmental effects of the lithium batteries that are often used in solar farms.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in 20 years,” he said. “We don’t know how long anything is going to last.”

Prior to the ordinances’ passing on May 25, the commissioners heard from two county residents – Jamie Shropshire and Lyn Ferguson – who questioned the reasoning behind the ordinances, and also expressed concern of the adverse effect the new regulations might have on the solar and wind industry.

“I’m afraid this is going to deter the solar or wind industry from investing in Clarion County,” Shropshire said, noting that she believes that coal-produced energy is “on its way out,” and citing her own environmental concerns with the methane produced by natural gas.

While Shropshire said that there may be some initial “environmental costs” associated with solar or wind power, she concluded that its end product is much better for the environment as a whole.

“When the energy is produced, it’s clean energy,” she said. “My concern is that this will hurt Clarion County with solar production, which is what’s coming.”

Tharan said the purpose of the ordinances is not to discourage solar or wind energy, but to encourage developers to do it in the right way.

“There have to be outlines for them to follow,” he said. “Without an ordinance, these companies will come in, buy a piece of property, and if there’s no guidance, they can do whatever they want and you can’t stop them.”

Tharan pointed out that the state regulations didn’t keep natural gas developers away “because there was a profit to be made with natural gas,” indicating that he believed the same would hold true with the solar and wind industry.

“There is a huge amount of federal money being thrown at it; that’s what these developers are after to build these solar fields,” he said. “But after the money stops, who’s responsible for it when it goes back to the repository?”

When asked if Clarion County has been contacted by anyone inquiring about the possibility of solar or wind farm development, county Planning director Kristi Amato said her department has had “several phone calls from different developers.”

“We haven’t had any from wind energy, but we’ve had several from solar developers,” she said.

The complete ordinance documents can be found on the county website at www.co.clarion.pa.us [wind, solar].