This letter was submitted to LebTown. Read LebTown’s submission policy here.
In response to Zach Alger’s letter submitted on June 21, 2021:
I would like to start by saying that this is in no way an attack on you, Zach, or any of the farmers and landowners who have signed leases with Lebanon Solar I, LLC (Enel Green Power). I am a landowner with a residential property directly bordering one of the farms that has signed a lease, and I am also a farmer myself. My father and I farm land that has been in my family for five generations that is also abutting a farm that has signed a lease. It is hard to fault any aging farmer without a clear heir to the land for looking for other options. I have talked to my neighbors, and I understand their positions; they have sat down and made the dollar and cents decision that best suits their family. I went into this with an open mind and tried to collect as much information from both sides as possible, but I still find it hard to support this project.
A lot of the “for” argument is based on the idea that this will mean long-term preservation for agricultural land. The power company has sold the idea that once the lease is up, or the panels become outdated, the land will be returned to the way it was before the project began with money that has been set aside. Personally, I find it very difficult to believe that they would just pack up and leave once all the hard infrastructure is in place (substation, buried cables and lines, chain link fence, etc). A more likely scenario is that if the power generation station becomes a viable plant over the next 30 years, the power company will buy the farms outright one by one as farmers decide to sell, meaning higher sale prices than other farmers can afford. If they still do not own the land after 30 years, they will push to renew the lease at the end of its term and update the panels to keep the operation profitable as any business would.
Here is where things get interesting. After 30 years, what if one of the farmers involved in this project decides he does not want to renew the lease? Do you think the power company will say, “Ok, we will just pull our stakes and try go around”? Alternatively, what if the project is so successful that they try to expand its proposed footprint even further, but no landowner is willing to sign or sell? The next course of action is eminent domain. You might think that is a farfetched scenario, but the reality of eminent domain is much closer to home that most people realize. Within the last few years, we have seen eminent domain used in the construction of pipelines in our area (and if you look even farther back, for Swatara State Park). This project, if viable, will provide power to a substantial amount of people and businesses. That fact alone makes it “critical energy infrastructure,” meaning that eminent domain is on the table for discussion.
In response to the “it’s better than residential housing or warehouses” argument, I do hurt inside every time I pass a development or warehouse that used to be a farm. However, I have yet to see a 1200 acre development happen in one fell swoop as would be the case with Lebanon Solar I. Slower land development over time gives the next generation of farmers like myself more time to try to save the farmland. As a farmer yourself, I do not have to tell you that we are already competing with commercial developers for land that is becoming scarcer; now we have another large (and foreign) corporation coming in to swallow up large tracts of our local farmland. Even if you say developers have no problem waiting decades to try to change agricultural land into commercial land, I am willing to fight for the rest of my life to preserve agricultural land, and I know many other young farmers are willing to do the same. Farm preservation is a great way to fight development, and I am not aware of any local, previously preserved farms that have been developed.
Another area of concern is the impact on local wildlife. A six-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire strands stretching for literal miles will certainly affect the wildlife populations in the area and their travel patterns. It is naive to think that the company would be able to fence in 1200 acres without trapping animals inside the fence. There needs to be some consideration for this.
I agree with your assessment that everyone wants public works, but no one wants them in their backyard. In this instance, however, there are more well-suited places for these panels (although less profitable for the power company). At what point will we classify farmland as an essential public work?
North State Route 934
East Hanover Township