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Work on Nesquehoning solar phase II to begin

Published February 26. 2016 04:00PM

Work on preparing the land for phase II of the PA Solar Park in Nesquehoning will soon begin.

Nesquehoning Borough Council approved Con Edison Development's request to begin clearing and grubbing land in preparation for the installation of approximately 39,000 solar panels that will generate 10 megawatts of electricity. The company just acquired the land from Boca Holdings and the Kovatch family.

Council approved only this part of the project, but at the company's own risk because additional outstanding items remain unresolved.

William Kerr, the project's attorney; David Lear, senior project manager for Lehigh Engineering Associates Inc. of Walnutport; and John Labiak, managing director of construction for Con Edison Development, addressed issues Wednesday.

Kerr said the plans were approved for phase II last year by Nesquehoning, but delays on the company's part pushed back the timeline.

"We are essentially ready to go with the second phase," he said. Before panels can be installed, council needs to execute and sign the final plans and approve the developer agreement.

A bond of $1.9 million is ready to be posted with the borough.

Council members said they only received the latest information from Con Edison a few days ago and needed more time before final action could be taken.

Company officials asked if they could at least begin clearing the land since it would take 30-45 days.

Visitors center

Kerr then addressed the elephant in the room, the visitors center that has not yet been built, but was included in phase I of the project.

The previous developer of the project, who is no longer involved, proposed the visitors center, Lear said, and when Con Edison took over, it kept the idea in its plans, but wasn't sure what it would encompass.

Kerr said the company submitted an alternate proposal to the borough that would provide an additional annual payment for the next 20 years "in lieu of a visitors center."

Neither council nor Con Edison announced how much the annual payment would be during the meeting. Borough solicitor Robert Yurchak said after the meeting that the number is still in negotiations and could not be made public.

"If the borough waives the requirement for the visitors center, then Con Edison would make annual payments to the borough that would allow the borough to collect revenue as part of the project," Kerr said. "We don't think the center would be utilized often."

Councilman Don DeMarco had some concerns about the term "in lieu of" based on past experiences where companies promised things "in lieu of" and then never came through so the area got nothing instead of what was promised.

"Taxpayers want to know and the people of Nesquehoning want to know, what is Nesquehoning going to get out of this," he said. "You are making money being in our town, so Nesquehoning has got to get something out of this."

Tax benefits

Kerr said the town received a one-time payment of $8,500 from the transfer tax of the sale of the land, and will also receive approximately $9,500 annually per phase from property taxes, in addition to a 20-year annual payment in lieu of the visitors center.

"I understand all that," DeMarco said. "But what is to say you won't go for reassessment?"

Kerr said the developer agreement can have language in it that states that as long as the assessment is reasonable based on what was installed, the company wouldn't go for reassessment.

"I hope you understand my concerns," DeMarco said. "You have got to be careful here. I think we can work something out … but I am looking at the bottom line, the big S with the two lines going through it. Dollars."

Kerr said he agreed and believes that this will bring both tax money in, as well as the additional contribution to the borough.

Lear clarified that the alternate plan and the annual payment "in lieu of" the visitors center does not include not constructing a building at all. The building would be mainly for operation and maintenance but still have a conference area in it for use for groups to learn about solar power.

The building wouldn't be open and staffed round-the-clock as initially proposed, he said.

Councilman George Sabol asked if any other projects like this park has visitors centers.

Labiak said that of the 25 projects he is overseeing across the country, only Carbon County's project proposed a visitors center.

He said the company would be more than willing to work with Nesquehoning officials to design the operation and maintenance building's facade.

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