One of the many signs protesting a proposed solar project in Mount Joy Township, Adams County is seen here in front of the Iron Horse Inn on Nov. 24, 2020. Owner Tom Newhart said the project could hurt the tourism industry in the area, just outside Gettysburg.
Rachel McDevitt / StateImpact Pennsylvania
Planned solar project near Gettysburg denied key permit
Rachel McDevitt is a reporter for StateImpact Pennsylvania at WITF.
Rachel joined WITF in 2017 as the host of Fresh Air and All Things Considered. She previously reported for WITF’s Radio Pennsylvania Network, where her work earned the National Association of State Radio Network’s award for best feature two years in a row. The western Pennsylvania native started her journalism career with the CBS affiliate in Bridgeport, West Virginia. Rachel is a graduate of Temple University.
Updated: June 4, 2021 | 3:36 pm
Officials in an Adams County township outside Gettysburg are denying a key permit for a large solar project.
Four Mount Joy Township supervisors on Thursday deadlocked on motions to grant or deny a conditional use permit to the 75-megawatt solar project from NextEra Energy. Supervisor David Updyke, who holds leases with NextEra, was absent.
By default, the permit was denied.
The decision comes after more than a year of hearings and increasingly heated debate on whether the community should host such a project.
NextEra leased 1,000 acres from 18 landowners along a rural section of Route 97 for the project. It planned to build solar panels on about half the area.
People who opposed it said the project didn’t fit the rural and historic character of the area, and raised concerns about lowered property values, impacts to wildlife, and stormwater runoff issues, among others.
NextEra needed a conditional use permit to build in zoning areas along the Baltimore Pike corridor. In response to citizen concerns, the motion to grant the permit had conditions including a higher bond amount to eventually decommission the project, a commitment to use non-reflective panels, and a requirement to get township approval for landscaping plans.
Clayton Wood, who leased his farm to the project, called the votes frustrating. He said what’s made the process especially irritating are the personal attacks aimed at his family, which has owned the land along Baltimore Pike for four generations.
“For something as purposeful and relevant as this, if it was that much of a fight, what can you do?” he said, adding the decision calls property owners’ rights into question.
Todd McCauslin, who organized against the project, said he’s happily surprised.
“Folks put up a lot of their own hard earned-money to fight this, to try to preserve the rural character of our township and our property values and the wildlife,” said McCauslin, who is now running for township supervisor in November’s election because of his involvement with the solar fight.
Attorney Nathan Wolf, who represented neighbors who opposed the project, said an appeal from NextEra seems likely. He said an open records request returned documents that show the company has applied for permits to build in agriculturally-zoned land, where solar is already an approved use.
Wolf said the fight in Mount Joy could act as a cautionary tale to other townships who don’t yet have a zoning ordinance for large solar projects. Preliminary research from Penn State Dickinson shows 87 percent of zoning codes in Pennsylvania provide no guidance for utility scale solar projects.
In a statement, NextEra spokesperson Lisa Paul said, “We are evaluating our options and look forward to the continued development of the project.”
This story has been updated with a statement from NextEra.