With solar energy companies continuing their interest in Susquehanna County, members of the Economic Development Advisory Board, along with Commissioner Judith Herschel and Progress Authority representatives visited a solar field under construction in Willet, N.Y., last week.
In January, the board heard a presentation from Matt Tripoli, director of project development for CS Energy, of N.J., who provided information on the possibility of local solar energy development.
Tripoli provided the board members with the tour of the over 110 acre site last week, answering questions from members.
Tripoli is familiar Susquehanna County and previously worked on the IMG natural gas power plants in the area before moving to CS Energy.
In the past two decades, natural gas has taken on an increasingly important role in electricity generation, Tripoli said, and now supplies about one-third of electric generation.
Over that time period, there’s also been a growth in renewable energy resources, Tripoli explained that the cost of solar power installation is “dropping pretty dramatically,” and admitted that while solar power is competitive, it is probably not as cheap as natural gas.
Tripoli reiterated some of the information he provided to the board in the winter. In 2004, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill to increase use of renewables to about eight percent by 2021. Tripoli said that mark has been met, but solar companies are anticipating that Pennsylvania will be taking a look at the efforts of neighboring states to further increase the use of renewable energy sources for electric generation.
Community solar projects – requiring less acreage than the large field included on the tour – present the best opportunities in Susquehanna County, Tripoli told the board.
Pennsylvania currently does not have supporting legislation allowing for such projects. House Bill 531 and its counterpart in the PA Senate, SB 705 were introduced in the 2019-2020 legislative session. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau was supportive of the legislation, but it was not voted out of committee.
Tripoli said in January, “If this does get traction with the state legislature, there would be a lengthy rule-making process with the PUC that followed. It might be awhile before you see (solar projects) breaking ground.”
The solar panel arrays for a community solar project would require 20-40 acres of southern facing, mostly flat land, he said. Areas ripe for projects would be situated near the existing power lines that run through the county.
Tripoli said companies commonly enter into an option agreement for use of the land, and then – as a project is developed – enter into a lease agreement for use of the land.
Tripoli admitted that while there are construction jobs associated with putting in the community solar farms, the drawback is that they don’t support a lot of long-term employment.
Commissioner Judy Herschel said she often is asked if the county has enough sunlight to support solar power.
Tripoli answered, “The most important thing to think about is that most of the electricity we use, we use during the day. The good thing about solar is that it produces when we use it the most.”
In New York, the state is offering incentives driving renewable energy developers to brownfield, landfill and other underutilized sites so they can be put back into use. In 2020, the New York Public Service Commission extended the NY-Sun Program through 2025. NY-Sun is a public-private partnership aimed to grow the solar industry in New York. As part of its program, there is training and assistance provided to help local governments “identify opportunities, mitigate barriers, and create solar programs,” according to the nyserda.ny.gov.