community solar panels: Potential boon for Pennsylvania farmers

potential boon
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A growing interest in energy produced by solar panels could be a potential boon for Pennsylvania farmers. Locally, Franklin County farmers are already jumping on the solar energy bandwagon.

Large swaths of farmland in Lurgan Township were leased to Penn State University last year. PSU installed what was termed at the time the largest solar farm in the state.

The borough of Chambersburg is currently installing a similar project in Hamilton Township to supplement the municipality’s electric grid.

Potential boon for Pennsylvania farmersNow the state legislature has a plan to make it easier for the average homeowner to cash in on the solar energy fad: community solar panels.

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The Center Square’s Christen Smith reports on testimony about the legislation, and how it will affect the state’s farmers.

READ: Borough solar project a win for residents

‘Shovel ready projects’ waiting on HB 531

(The Center Square) – Proposed legislation enabling electricity credits for community solar panels may just benefit Pennsylvania’s struggling farmers the most.

At least, so say the clean energy groups testifying in favor of House Bill 531 this week. The proposal, under consideration in the House Consumer Affairs Committee, would allow residents to invest in solar panels installed on open land. They would receive a credit on their electricity bill as if the units were on their own roofs instead.

“There is no question that HB 531 would help farmers to diversify their profits and productivity, and take advantage of the unused open space on hillsides, on the roofs of barns, chicken houses and other structures,” said Chad Forcey, executive director of the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum. “On the land itself, farmers can take advantage of temporary development enhancements. Soybeans, pollinator-friendly crops and even beehives can flourish underneath solar panels.

READ: PSU, Light-Source BP Kick Off Solar Project

Leslie Elder, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, said investors will move forward with more than 220 “shovel-ready” projects in over 40 counties. Those projects will begin “as soon as the bill passes,” she said. The deals have already secured between $3 and $4 million in land leases for farmers. 

A lifeline for farmers

She said the legislation provides a lifeline to farmers, hit hard by tanking milk prices and broken supply chains.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau likewise lent their support to the legislation in 2019. The bureau recognized that agriculture can “play a key developmental role.”

“This is a case where there is strength in numbers,” Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Brad Roae, R-Crawford, said. “When people work together and pool their resources, they often can accomplish more together than they ever could while they were apart.”

Christen Smith

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike

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