Over three years after it was first proposed, a local judge may be ready to decide whether a massive solar farm may be erected on farmland off Route 934 in North Annville Township.

The project, which Massachusetts-based Lebanon Solar I LLC wants to erect on 858 acres of agriculturally zoned land – 12 contiguous lots – leased from nine owners, would put solar panels on 484 of those acres. The energy they generate would be resold to commercial utilities.

Lebanon Solar I is a subsidiary of European energy conglomerate Enel S.p.A.

Solar farms are permitted in the township as a “conditional use,” meaning a use which is permitted as long as the applicant can meet certain conditions specified by the zoning ordinance.

The proposed solar farm generated widespread public concern, primarily over the loss of the area’s rural character, as well as support from township residents.

On May 12, 2022, following several well-attended and contentious public meetings, township supervisors denied the application, finding that Lebanon Solar I had failed to present sufficient evidence to satisfy six of the eight requirements for a conditional use.

Lebanon Solar I appealed to the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas, and all sides have filed legal briefs with Judge Bradford H. Charles. While there is no timetable for the judge to decide the appeal, a decision could be issued this summer or in early fall.

When Judge Charles decides the case, any unhappy party could appeal further to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

What is a “lot?”

The township ordinance allows a solar farm if all of these conditions are met:

  • The property cannot have an agricultural conservation easement.
  • “Any lot” used as a solar farm must be at least 50 acres. (Emphasis added by LebTown)
  • Equipment has to be set back at least 50 feet from property lines.
  • Fencing or a “permanent evergreen vegetative buffer” has to be installed on the perimeter of the property.
  • No more than 50% of the lot can be covered by equipment.
  • The operator has to have at least $1,000,000 of liability insurance per person and $2,000,000 per incident.
  • The operator has to post a bond to cover the township’s costs if the solar farm goes out of business.
  • The operator must have an approved stormwater runoff plan.

Lebanon Solar I contends that the township supervisors were biased against the project, violated the law, and “capriciously” disregarded valid evidence by ruling that each and every one of the 12 separate but adjacent lots must independently meet all eight criteria. Instead, it maintains that the 12 lots, when considered as one larger lot, meet all eight requirements.

The township and resident Grady Summers, who has been allowed to “intervene” in the legal proceedings, argue that the appeal should be dismissed because it wasn’t filed within the time required by law. As expected, they also maintain that township supervisors were following the law when they denied the application.

Read earlier N. Annville solar farm coverage

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...


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