Plans for a proposed solar park in Nesquehoning are powered up and ready to glow now that the borough zoning hearing board on Wednesday granted developers a special exception permit for the second phase of the project.
The zoners approved the permit to allow Green Energy Capital Partners, Montgomery County, to build an additional 50,000-60,000 solar panels adjacent to the first phase of the project. The project is on 190 acres of land owned by the Kovatch Corp.
The solar panels in Phase II will occupy about 80 acres of the parcel, said project manager David G. Lear of Lehigh Engineering Associates. The parcel is on the north side of Route 54, and west of the borough proper, between Diaz Avenue and W. Columbus.
Kovatch attorney Steve Cormier, after the hearing, marveled at the energy evolution in the borough. Nesquehoning was once the "king of coal," he said. "Now it's the sultan of solar."
Company officials said the $120 million project is moving along smoothly.
"It's shovel-ready," Lear said. "We're just working out the final agreements with PPL in order to hook the lines up. We went through (the state Department of Environmental Protection), we have our (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit, we have an erosion control permit, and we also have the joint permit for a minor stream crossing for a utility line."
Green Energy executive director John F. Curtis III is eagerly anticipating ground-breaking.
"We're looking at a late summer start," he said. "We want to be online by mid-2011. It takes one year to build the transmission lines."
The addition of Phase II doubles the size of the project. The additional panels would allow the park to generate enough electric to power almost 3,000 homes, Curtis has said.
Curtis said Tuesday that the financing is in place for the project. The Regional Transmission Organization has approved the plans, and all the permitting is complete.
"We've hired a well-recognized (engineering procurement and construction) contractor," Curtis said. "We have someone that's managing that entire process for us to make sure that it's built the way it's supposed to be built and operates the way it's supposed to operate for the next 15-20 years."
The contractor will also maintain and operate the plant.
The zoners granted the special exception permit needed because a solar plant is not addressed anywhere in borough code with several conditions.
They include: noise restrictions between dusk and dawn (Lear explained that the only noise would be a humming sound heard only within about 20 feet of the equipment); development of a land use plan; no hazardous materials stored at the site or used to clear or maintain vegetation; if the project ends, the parcel must be returned to its original condition and all equipment removed; there must be enough space between the modules to allow access; and the project must comply with all borough zoning regulations, including buffer setbacks.
Developers first had to prove it could meet the requirements for a special exception permit: That it would be allowed in the Commercial-1 zoning district; would not interfere with public health, safety, welfare and convenience; that it would not harm the value of the neighborhood; that landscaping and screening would be done; off-street parking would be addressed (none is needed) and that it would conform to regulations governing a C-1 district.
In a related matter, the borough planning committee on Tuesday recommended approval of a special exception permit for another solar plant project, this one to provide power for the Kovatch Corp.
"NM Solar will be developing a solar generating project," Cormier said after the Green energy hearing. "The first phase of that project is going to supply power to the Kovatch complex, or part of the Kovatch complex. Any excess power will be sold back to PPL."
Cormier said Kovatch is a partner in the company, "along with a solar energy developer from Sunbury."
He expects to break ground on the project later this year.