A commercial solar energy farm could be generating electricity in Girard Township next year.
A similar project is in the works in southern Erie County and northern Crawford County.
Commercial solar projects convert sunlight to electricity for sale to power grids. In Girard Township, California-based Cypress Creek Renewables plans to install thousands of solar panels on about 120 acres of the former Divine Word Seminary/Mercyhurst University property along Route 20.
The panels will measure about 3 feet by 6 feet and will be mounted 12 feet above the ground. They will rotate to follow the sun and will generate about 20 megawatts of electricity annually, or enough to power about 3,000 homes, said David Weightman, senior project developer for Cypress Creek Renewables.
The project is moving through the permitting process with Girard Township, Weightman said.
The former seminary property was later owned by Mercyhurst University, which at one time planned to open a satellite campus in Girard and later used the land for sustainable farming. The 200-acre site is now owned by Mark Troyer, who is leasing the property to Cypress Creek Renewables.
The project won’t damage the land and will be good for the environment, Troyer said.
“It’s something we feel good about. We like the idea of renewable energy. We want to be good stewards of the land and do things that are sustainable,” he said.
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Troyer said that he will continue to farm other property that he owns in the county, including hundreds of acres of potatoes and corn in the Waterford area. He also grows industrial hemp for his Farmulated CBD business.
“As a farmer, I’m going to continue to farm and probably even will put the proceeds we’re getting off this lease into another farm somewhere else,” Troyer said.
The Girard solar farm, formally known as the Erie Solar Project, will be naturally screened by trees on the property.
“Right now you can only see down the driveway (from Route 20), and with trees on both sides of the project, it will be pretty difficult for anybody to see the project at all,” Weightman said.
It also will be difficult to hear.
“It will be basically silent,” Weightman said. “It will make about the same amount of noise as a commercial air conditioner. You’d need to be very close to hear anything.
“The project is going to be quiet and out of sight,” he said.
Meanwhile, in southern Erie/northern Crawford counties…
The Crawford Solar Project, announced in early 2020, is still a work in progress in southern Erie County and northern Crawford County.
Originally planned by Texas-based Pattern Energy on 1,600 acres in Washington Township in Erie County and in Cambridge, Cussewago and Venango townships in Crawford County, the Crawford Solar Project now is being developed by Lightsource bp, a British Petroleum subsidiary with offices in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver, said Washington Township Manager Norman Willow.
The company has not submitted a formal land development plan to Washington Township but has indicated that it plans to proceed with the project and has done some preliminary engineering and site work in the area, Willow said.
Also in preparation for the project, other municipalities involved have been working to adopt ordinances regulating commercial solar energy developments, Willow said.
“Some of the other municipalities in Crawford County needed to get their ordinances squared away, and I believe that’s just happened,” he said. “It takes a while for a municipality to grind through the guidelines and guide rails to get these projects on the straight and narrow.”
Venango Township adopted its solar energy ordinance in June. Cambridge Township will hold a public hearing on its solar energy ordinance on Oct. 11. Cussewago Township is still finalizing its regulations.
Washington Township Council adopted an ordinance regulating solar energy systems in the township in 2019.
The Crawford Solar Project is expected to generate 116 megawatts of electricity annually, enough to power roughly 22,000 homes, according to the original Pattern Energy plans.
In Erie County, solar panels would be installed on open land near the intersections of Crane Road and Route 99 north of Edinboro and Beason Road and Route 99 south of Edinboro. The land belongs to multiple property owners.