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Solar energy firm eyes site in western Clinton County

Two-year construction plan could provide 100 jobs

PHOTO PROVIDED Apex Clean Energy used this photo to show what the solar panels might look like in East and West Keating townships.

RENOVO — A large renewable energy firm’s plans to build solar energy fields in western Clinton County could provide a big economic boost to the area.

The Clinton County Zoning Hearing Board last week unanimously approved a special exception request that will allow construction of utility grade solar panels in a 1,500 acre field in East and West Keating townships.

“It’s enormous … it will have 300 megawatt capability,” said Clinton County Planner and Zoning Officer Katie deSilva of the project.

The proposed solar energy production fields are located within the Rural Forest District and the county does not cover large solar facilities so a hearing was necessary to allow the project to proceed.

The project will consist of the installation of solar arrays, connection and transmission lines, power substations, construction access and maintenance roads.

It is anticipated that 100 construction jobs will be brought to the area for the one- to two-year construction process.

If all goes as planned, deSilva said electricity could be generated from the site in about five years.

The next steps will include obtaining permits and review by the Clinton County Planning Commission, deSilva said.

Once constructed, general maintenance will be completed by two fulltime employees and associated vehicular traffic will be limited to maintenance employees. Typical maintenance includes mowing, washing panels, fence maintenance and security.

The request for a special exception came from Tibben Zerby of Nittany Engineering/Century Engineering on behalf of the landowner, Mary E. Winner.

The project will be undertaken by Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va. Apex will develop, own and operate the plant. This company has a Penelec connection agreement for 1,500 acres of production… about 330 megawatts of generation… and could expand the footprint to 2,000 acres.

The site is not visible from any local road and includes 16 affected parcels in East and West Keating townships comprising 3,232 acres, all owned by the Forney and Mary Winner Trust.

The developer has a long term rental agreement with the Trust. The solar field will be separated into six or seven plots of panels connected by utility corridors comprising 46 percent of the total area.

A 10-acre site will contain the power plant.

This area was timbered in 2020 by Metzler Forest Products and roads were bonded during the timbering portion of the work. Contractors built an extensive system of roads to serve the timber operation that will be used to serve the solar fields and possible future adjacent developments, deSilva said.

The primary use for the selected parcels would continue to be Forest Management and the addition of the solar energy production would not conflict with the intent of that use.

The panels will be installed with minimal alteration to the existing topography and once construction is completed, all disturbed areas will be reseeded and maintained with grass or other natural ground cover.

Several conditions were added to the agreement by the zoning hearing board, including a 35-foot setback from property lines, compliance with all relevant state and federal regulations and that the project must be initiated within six months, deSilva said.

Asked about the cost of the project at the hearing, Apex declined to comment.

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