Ground-breaking could begin as early as December for a $78 million solar park the second-largest solar photovoltaic energy facility in the United States to be built in Nesquehoning.

The park, which will use 56,000 solar units to generate 11.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,450 homes, will take about six months to build, Green Energy Capital Partners Executive Director John F. Curtis III said Thursday after a public hearing on storm water management plans.

The project will also include a 5,000-to-6,000-square-foot center for "community sustainability education and green" job training," Curtis said. "It will be a showpiece for the community."

Solar power is "something whose time has come," he said. He referred to electricity rate caps coming off in 2010, resulting in significant increases in power costs for consumers. The higher prices will trigger cutbacks in manufacturing, which will lead to further job losses.

"We must have a mass proliferation of renewable energy to offset that spike," Curtis said. "We've got to do something about it now. We can't wait for five years to start. We need to be building clean, renewable energy plants that lower the peak electricity demand and solar is a perfect way to do it."

He anticipates construction to start within weeks at the soonest and by March at the latest.

But before the Conshohocken, Montgomery County-based company can begin selling the electricity, either to PPL, Allentown, or to regional transmission organization PJM, Valley Forge, Chester County, it must first connect to an energy grid. That means transmission lines must be run and substations built, Curtis said.

"The project is moving along very quickly," he said. "We have some final steps we need to take as far as interconnection. We're still fleshing out the final time lines, but we have a lot of qualified people to help make that happen."

The company has applied to the state Department of Environmental Protection for a permit that would allow storm water from construction to be discharged into Broad Run, a high-quality cold water fishery of exceptional value, and into Nesquehoning Creek, also a cold water fishery.

Before the hearing, DEP Environmental Group Manager Bharat R. Patel said the solar park would not be paved, so water runoff would be kept to a minimum.

The hearing, held at borough hall, was brief, about five minutes long. Although about 10 members of the public attended, no one offered comment. Before the hearing, DEP Environmental Group Manager Bharat R. Patel said the solar park would not be paved, so water runoff would be kept to a minimum.

It appears likely that DEP will approve the storm water plan.

"The next step is financing the project. It's in place, and we're very comfortable that that will happen pretty quickly," Curtis said. "We're very excited."

The project was given a $5.5 million state grant in July. Curtis anticipates a "possible (U.S. Department of Energy) Loan Guarantee and a $500,000 Growing Greener Grant from the DEP."

"The balance will be privately financed," he said.

Curtis, who attended the hearing along with his wife, Anne, said earlier that he expects the $78 million cost of the project to be "reduced somewhat due to falling commodity prices."