Scranton Zoning Board rejects solar farm after neighbors object to proposal

Feb. 8—SCRANTON — The zoning board on Wednesday rejected a proposal for a solar farm on West Mountain after some neighbors expressed opposition to the plan.

Massachusetts-based ECA Solar sought zoning approval to build a large-scale solar array with 12,000 panels on a 73-acre tract on West Mountain in the rear 800 block of North Keyser Avenue off Graham Street.

The board voted 4-1, with Chairman Bob Gattens, Shawn Walsh, Bob Morris and Robert Gowin-Collins all voting no, and Jim McDermott voting yes, to reject a special exception that ECA needed to advance the plan.

The ECA project, called Electric City Solar Initiative, would be the first commercial solar venture in the city. It would cost nearly $9 million to construct and produce 4.35 megawatts of electricity a year, or enough to power 600 to 700 homes. The array would contain three sections of panels situated on 36 acres of the 73-acre tract and within buffered areas.

In testifying in favor of the proposal, ECA representatives Martha Diezemann and Michael Redding discussed the project detail. The tract formerly hosted coal mining many years ago and ECA Solar bought the land in 2021 because it's near PPL electrical facilities. The electricity generated would get sold to PPL and get directly transmitted to PPL, with no electrical battery storage on site. The project would create 23 construction jobs and 70 full-time equivalent jobs in terms of overall economic impact. It would have no lighting and largely would be monitored and operated remotely, except for quarterly inspection visits. The property would have a knotwood fence that would allow passage of wildlife and keep people out. Overall, the solar farm would have minimal impact and would be minimally visible in winter to a few homes on the abutting side of Fawnwood Heights neighborhood, Redding testified.

But residents raised various issues and concerns. Keyser Valley Citizens Association Vice President Bridget Chomko, who said she represented Fawnwood and Keyser Valley residents, spoke about potential negative impacts of stormwater runoff and said the neighborhood's quality of life would forever be altered by a solar farm. Residents now have woods and wildlife next door, but if the solar farm is allowed, such an "idyllic view" of Fawnwood "would transform to an eyesore of the metal and the glass of the solar panels," Chomko said.

Resident Brian Gallagher also believes the solar farm would only benefit ECA and there would not be any upside for the neighborhood and city.

"I think the biggest concern is there is no benefit" to the neighborhood or city, Gallagher said. "Nobody wants to look at them."

After the 90-minute hearing, ECA attorney David Schwager of Kingston said the firm would consider filing an appeal of the zoning rejection in Lackawanna County Court.

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