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Solar Park plan doubles; additional panels would power 3,000 homes

Published February 16. 2010 05:00PM

The developer of a planned $78 million solar park in Nesquehoning wants to crank up the power to generate twice the electricity.

Phase I of the proposed park, which would use 56,000 solar units to generate 11.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,450 homes, would already be the second-largest of its kind in the United States, John F. Curtis III, Executive Director of Green Energy Capital Partners, Montgomery County, has said.

Now, Curtis is asking borough officials for permission to almost double the size of the park by an additional 50,000 solar panels, he said. Phase II of the project would be on 100 acres of land leased from the Kovatch Corporation, about a half-mile from the Phase I site.

The additional panels would allow the parks to generate enough electric to power almost 3,000 homes and boost the cost of the project to about $120 million, Curtis said. The project was given a $5.5 million state grant in July, 2009, and a $500,000 Growing Greener Grant from the DEP. The remainder would be privately funded, Curtis said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Although in November Curtis said he anticipated breaking ground for Phase I by the end of 2009, he now expects to be able to start work in July and complete construction in May 2011. Phase II ground-breaking is expected to be in September and should take about nine months to build, he said.

Curtis was frustrated by the delays, but optimistic.

"We fully anticipated this thing would be on line by now. But we've run into delays that were out of our control," he said. "We want the community to know that this will be built. When we get both these done back-to-back, it will be one of the largest in the country. And it will be built right, and operate the way it's expected to. We have performance guarantees to ensure it will continue to operate in the right way for a very long time. It's going to be a world-class project - not something that's going to fail five years down the road.

"I can assure you, without any doubts or reservations, that this project will be built as soon as physically possible," he said.

Curtis said his company on Feb. 9 filed an application for Phase II with the borough.

Zoning officer Gene Kennedy said the plans would need a Special Exception permit, as did Phase I, because a public utility is not a permitted use on the property.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing storm water management plans for Phase I. The 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. In November, DEP Environmental Group Manager Bharat R. Patel in November said water runoff would be kept to a minimum because the solar park would not be paved.

DEP spokesman Mark Carmon on Tuesday said the agency is "close to final review" on permits for Phase I.

Phase II would also need permits. "We'll have to look and see how this proposed new site would line up with the existing property and go from there," he said. "We should have the (Phase I) review finalized this week or the next. It looks pretty good at this point."

Curtis has said the project would include a 5,000-to-6,000-square-foot center for community sustainability education and "green" job training.

in November, he anticipated breaking ground for the project by December, 2009 at the earliest, and by March at the latest. He's since revised the schedule and is now aiming for a July ground-breaking. The solar park would sell the power it generates either to PPL, Allentown, or to regional transmission organization PJM, Valley Forge, Chester County. But to do that, it must first run transmission lines and build substations to connect to an energy grid.

The first stages of permitting for PJM and PPL has been done, he said.

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