This letter was submitted to LebTown. Read LebTown’s submission policy here.

I’d like to voice my support for the proposed solar farm off of Blacks Bridge Road. Many of the people complaining about this project pose their objections to it as wanting to “save farmland.” As a farmer myself I think these efforts are misguided and that nothing could be further from the truth.

The people who own the land where the solar farm proposed are almost all farmers. They’ve been struggling to make a living there the last few years and a few do not have younger family members wanting to take over. Traditionally any farmer in such a position either has to change the way they’re farming and reinvest in a new project (something older farmers may not want to take on) or sell. Any time a multi-generational farming family has to sell their farm these days puts the farm at risk. Large investors are currently gobbling up a huge proportion of farmland simply to hold it and accrue value. The percentage of US farmland owned by investors who are foreign nationals has nearly doubled in the last ten years, and the single largest owner of farmland in the US is Bill Gates, who last time I checked is not a farmer. In this area many farms being sold are often purchased by housing developers. It may be easy to think that North Annville shouldn’t be concerned about housing developers because all the land in question is zoned agricultural, but these developers have no problem whatsoever waiting decades to put pressure on townships in orders to get their developments built, and who knows what zoning laws here will be 20 years from now. Even Farmland Preservation trusts may be defeated in the future by unscrupulous developers willing to spend big bucks to defeat them.

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I would suggest that anything that keeps farms in the family is a good thing, and these solar farms do that. Only one smaller property is actually being sold, the vast majority would be leased. In 25 years or whenever the leases run out the solar company would be obligated to remove the panels, and the families will once again have farmland and open space. On the other hand, once a farm has a development (or worse yet, a warehouse) built on it it is lost forever. In 30 years we may look back and be very glad that this project went through, as by that point it may be some of the only open space we have left.

As a North Annville resident my only regret in regards to this project is that it would have encompassed my own farm as well, even though I am an active farmer. It would allow me to make money off of less productive, hilly ground while still utilizing the buildings on it to support my farming elsewhere. I’m jealous I was left out.

I don’t think the notion holds water that these solar panels are harmful to wildlife or damaging to the environment. Wildlife will not be stopped by a chainlink fence, and the only animals really using cornfields as habitat are groundhogs, mice, and foxes which can still live there. While not destroying habitat, it may be true that deer and turkey won’t have as much to eat if the farmer has solar panels there instead of crops, but it is not a farmer’s responsibility to feed deer. I’m also skeptical at the notion that they’ll cause erosion or excessive runoff. These panels won’t have concrete pads, so logically any water that runs off of one panel uphill can be absorbed by the area underneath another one downhill, and if the area is seeded to grass erosion should be less than or equal to no-till farming practices and significantly less than conventional-till. And of course these solar panels would generate electricity with zero emissions. Harnessing the power of the sun is what farming is all about.

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The only real complaint that I can see people having about these solar farms is that they are ugly. They certainly can be an eyesore. Having one next to my house isn’t something I would be pleased by, but I also wouldn’t want a firehouse, a prison, a school or any other of a number of things the public requires next to me either. I live next to the quarry. It’s ugly, generates dust and shakes my house when they blast, but the world needs crushed stone. The public does need these things, and if any of those were to be built next to me I would not object just as I wouldn’t object to this solar project. It makes good money for farmers and provides clean energy we all need and consume.

Personally it grates me to see the level of hostility people have towards this project that the farmers themselves want when so much other farmland is being permanently destroyed in Lebanon County without people so much as batting an eye. Suburban sprawl is everywhere and expanding, with no thought towards traffic or stormwater runoff in already overtaxed streams. Hundred-acre, short-lifespan warehouses with heavy truck traffic and limited jobs are cropping up like mushrooms after a rain. And just a few years ago two large pipeline projects were inflicted upon landowners here whether they wanted them or not, saddling landowners with true erosion problems, environmental and safety concerns, permanent right-of-ways, and building restrictions that hinders their future and lowered their property values. The vocal opposition to this solar project-something good- compared to the relative and continuing quiet on any of these other abominations suggests to me that people are having difficulty seeing the forest from the trees.

Farmers will have to adapt to survive going forward and creative, non-traditional income streams should be pursued in order to stay afloat. Please don’t kneecap a farmer’s ability to generate income off of his land without having to sell it by nixing this solar project, as it won’t stop there. Next people will object to someone wanting to legally grow regulated medicinal marijuana, or having a farm store, or agritourism, or any of a number of things. North Annville is a farm-based community, but not every farm can be a Norman Rockwell painting. Some farm structures are indeed kind of ugly and solar panels are no different. I hope I wrong but I suspect that some of the same people screaming “save farms” today would be screaming “no megafarms” if this doesn’t go through and someone wants to put a big hog or chicken house there instead. If we all say “not in my backyard” to things we need where will the things we need go?

Zach Alger
Farmer
Clear Spring Road
North Annville Township

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Upon request of the author, this letter was updated after publication to clarify that preserved farmland rules may be vulnerable to development pressure in the future and to remove a claim that several developments in Lebanon County had been built on previously preserved farmland.

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