At a hearing Thursday, the Cleona Borough Zoning Hearing Board unanimously agreed to approve a special exception for a solar farm at 195 N. Mill St.

The decision was made following a presentation by Maple Ridge Solar, a period of public comment, and around 30 minutes of private deliberation.

Their approval has multiple conditions, listed below:

  • Plans, documents, etc., must be submitted simultaneously to Lebanon County Planning Department and Cleona Borough for review.
  • A Knox Box (emergency key box) and emergency shut-off switch must both be installed at locations approved by the local fire department.
  • The developer must post an escrow to Cleona Borough totaling the cost of panel decommission.
  • The developer must provide a copy of environmental studies to the borough within 30 days.

The plan includes 61 rows of panels spread between two sites (each generating three megawatts), each surrounded by eight-foot fencing. The panels will be fixed (i.e. not rotate) and have an anti-glare surface, said Maple Ridge representatives.

Solar farming is not automatically allowed under agricultural zones such as 195 N. Mill St., but a special exception can be made for uses similar to allowed uses.

Maple Ridge attorney Mark Wendower described the solar project as a “passive use” that “promotes, it doesn’t disrupt agricultural use.” It will not be actively manned and no permanent structures are planned as of now.

The Kreiders, who own the farm, plan to lease it to Maple Ridge Solar for a period of 30 years. Daniel Kreider said that he considers the solar farm to be “about the least invasive use possible,” mentioning the alternatives of a pig or chicken farm.

He emphasized solar use will create no odor or dust, unlike other some uses.

Kreider also alluded to a $2.5 million offer to purchase the property that he had turned down. Upon questioning from an audience member, Kreider confirmed this offer was from Jubilee Ministries, which was looking for a site for its headquarters.

Kreider also said that, contrary to the concerns of some audience members, the property will still be useable as a farm once the panels are removed.

Several members of the public voiced concerns about the plan, including impact on the soil, wildlife, or property values.

“I don’t feel that an agricultural zone is the right place for a solar farm,” said Cleona resident Sue Bowman.

Others voiced concern that the panels may end up abandoned on the site and not properly decommissioned, creating a hefty expense for the borough. This concern was reflected in the ZHB’s decision, which specified that an escrow totalling the full amount required for decommissioning must be submitted to Cleona Borough.

The contract requires that decommissioning removes everything to a depth of 36 inches into the soil, returning the property to a relatively similar condition to how it started. Native perrennials will be planted throughout the property to replenish the soil.

NG, the larger France-based company owning Maple Ridge Solar, does not currently own any solar farms in Pennsylvania, but is investigating about six sites throughout the state.

The maintenance team will visit every few months, representatives said, and the property will be mowed twice throughout the summer and maintained at three feet. ZHB chairman Bruce Kohr noted that they will need to look into the ordinances and may need to maintain greenery at six inches, or obtain special permission to let the perrennials grow taller.

In case of emergency, local fire companies will be trained as to how to handle a major problem on site. The panels, Maple Ridge claimed, do not contain dangerous chemicals and, even if broken by large hail or fire, chemicals will not enter the soil.

While the property includes land in Annville and North Annville townships, the 30 to 35 acres designated for the solar farm is entirely in Cleona Borough.

Prior to setup, Maple Ridge will still need to obtain approval for the land development plan and stormwater management plan, and meet the borough’s requirements for both. The ZHB’s decision may also be appealed within

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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.


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