You may not be aware of it, but Erie County is under assault. Solar energy developers, particularly grid scale or utility scale developers, are proposing very large solar projects designed to connect directly into the grid. Smaller projects are already under way, but it’s the grid scale projects we really need to be concerned about.
They’re not here for the sunshine
If you look at the map above, it’s apparent Erie County would be the last place you would want to build a grid scale solar project, if you were interested in sunshine and producing electricity, but solar developers have a much bigger incentive to build projects as fast as they can, anywhere they can.
The solar industry makes it clear:
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the most transformational clean energy policy in history. The passage of this historic legislation has had an immediate impact long-term outlook for the U.S. solar industry.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has little to do with inflation, it is really the Green New Deal under another name, showering unbelievable amounts of money on renewables, but especially solar. Build a solar project, collect money.
But why here in Erie County?
Those of us living here know this isn’t prime territory for solar development and having a strong solar ordinance in place to limit and control these projects has not been a priority. Why would we need one? Then along comes the “Inflation Reduction Act” throwing money at solar, so developers quickly approach all of those areas without ordinances as easy targets. While local officials scramble trying to get up to speed they find plans for projects and applications for conditional use coming from every direction. Ordinances written in haste leave gaping holes for developers to exploit, landowners are offered money for leases to allow solar farms on their land, and rural townships and counties find themselves with uncontrolled development they never anticipated.
Long term eyesores
Solar developers fill their websites with pretty pictures of solar panels on sunny days installed in neat rows on flat land. The reality in many places is a bit different as the photo above, taken in Sherman, New York plainly shows.
How long is temporary?
In the 900 acre project proposed in nearby Venango Township, Birch Creek Development includes this line: “The project is temporary and will have a lifespan of approximately 35 years.” They include the word temporary to make you feel it’s a short term commitment, then follow up with 35 years! If the decision made by a township or county to allow these solar projects to be built turns out to be a bad one, everyone will be looking at your mistake for the next 35 years.
Remember, too, these projects often target prime farmland. North East Township has a lot of agricultural preservation areas designed to protect those lands from other development, but some say building a solar power plant on those lands is acceptable. That temporary solar farm makes farming impossible for 35 years. Something to consider.
Clear cutting trees is environmentally friendly?
Obviously, trees create shade which isn’t good for solar panels, so developers remove those troublesome trees by clear cutting. The project by Wattsburg was originally set to clear cut 155 acres of trees, but has since been adjusted down to 125 acres. Think about that. The temporary project will cut down a small forest to make way for solar panels. Another project in North Carolina by the same developer wants to clear cut 2500 acres of trees. Trees are just collateral damage.
Grid scale solar makes the grid less stable
Pushing extra electricity onto the grid in dramatically varying amounts based on whether the sun is shining and expecting the grid to magically adjust is a technical nightmare. You and I need stable electricity all the time and solar can’t provide that. More solar on the grid makes it harder to control, especially when combined with the government’s push to shut down conventional power plants. If you want more grid scale solar, you might want to buy a standby generator for your home.
Solar is the current renewable fad
Not too many years ago, wind power was all the rage. Now, that industry is fading. As resistance to the turbines grew they were pushed offshore into the ocean. Developers found them to be economic disasters and projects are being cancelled. What to do? Solar, of course. The federal government is funding solar and we’re seeing the same growth of developers just like we did with wind. When this too fades, the townships and counties that allowed them in will have to put up with these sprawling solar lawn ornaments for decades to come and the children of those who let them in will be asking, “What were you thinking?” It’s a great question.
Grid scale solar is not an answer to any question
Grid scale solar is not inevitable, no matter what the solar enthusiasts keep saying. We need to tightly restrict or simply not allow it. Other townships across the country are already doing this and we can, too. Let’s just say no.