A 5 Megawatt “Community Solar” farm is being proposed for North East Township by Clean Choice Energy. The project, if built, would be located on a parcel of land southwest of the intersection of Route 89 and Crawford Road. The project would utilize approximately 25 acres of the 90 acre parcel.
North East Township, like townships throughout Erie County, does not currently have an ordinance in place to address solar installations of any kind whether grid scale, community solar or individual installations on a business or homeowner’s property. Planning commission members last week attended a Utility Scale Solar Workshop put on by the Erie Area Council of Governments and the Penn State Solar Team discussing the rapidly expanding number of planned solar projects in PA along with discussions covering specific solar ordinance language being used in other parts of PA where solar development is active. The workshop specifically dealt with grid scale or utility scale installations, but much of what was learned can be applied to smaller projects as well.
The community solar project proposed here of 5 Megawatts and 25 acres is far smaller than the utility scale or grid scale project planned in Ripley, NY which is over 2000 acres with a projected output of 270 Megawatts.
What is community solar?
A community solar farm sends its electric output to the grid. The utility pays the community solar company for that electricity which then shares the revenue with a limited number of homeowners and renters who cannot, or do not wish to, install their own solar panels, but instead sign up for a share of the solar farm revenue. There is a subscriber fee each month, so as long as the revenue share is greater than the subscription fee, the subscriber’s utility bill is reduced. This is not guaranteed, however, since solar output varies a great deal. In North East Township, a subscriber will need to carefully evaluate cost versus benefit since this region of PA is not in an ideal location for solar panels.
Clean Choice Energy explains on their website:
Typical subscribers save about 5-10% off their annual electricity costs by participating in community solar. For example, a typical subscriber who pays $90-95 for their monthly subscription could expect to receive $100 in bill credits for that period. Over time, this can really add up.
Actual savings will depend on the actual production of the solar farm and the value of your bill credits over time as compared to the applicable utility rates established by your Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the specific terms of your subscription agreement. Of course, no one can predict the future, so savings are not guaranteed, although they are likely to occur.
Community solar is currently being addressed by the PA legislature with two bills, HB 1555 and SB 472 which will, when passed, create a framework for solar companies operating in PA and give guidance to PA municipalities working to regulate the projects.
As noted above, the North East Township planning commission is not yet in a position to approve any solar project since the PA legislature is still debating the topic and the township does not have a solar ordinance in place.
Currently, 15 solar projects are being proposed in Erie County and it is in the best interests of everyone throughout the county to become well informed on this issue.