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Bedford solar field project may move

Extension for plan’s completion granted until June 30, 2023

The stalled solar field project in Bedford Township has potentially found a new location and been granted an extension with completion by June 30, 2023, the Department of Community and Economic Development said in a statement.

Despite the original approved plans placing the solar field close to the Bedford County Correctional Facility on Imlertown Road, the DCED stated the project ran into issues with an interconnection agreement and that a new site within the municipality had been identified.

The grantee of state funds, Bedford 58 Solar LLC, is working with the property owner to secure a lease, the DCED said. No other details regarding the interconnection agreement issues or new site were provided.

The DCED also clarified that a grant for the project was awarded through a program administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. While the CFA falls under the DCED, it is an agency independent from the Wolf administration.

According to a letter obtained by the Mirror from Donald Schwartz, director of the Bedford County Planning Commission, on Aug. 10, 2018, the commission received a copy of the preliminary land development plan for the original location containing Sheets No. 1 through 7 dated Aug. 3, 2018, prepared by BL Companies Inc. for RER Energy Group. In the letter, the BCPC made comments for Bedford Township supervisors’ to consider based upon county and municipal plans as well as municipal subdivision and land development ordinances.

The letter detailed that the preliminary plan proposed the installation of 5,184 photovoltaic solar panels mounted at 25 degrees on 8.37 acres by the Bedford County Correctional Facility on Imlertown Road. It also stated that a 10-by-12-foot electrical gear concrete pad was to be located within the fenced solar field and that plans showed other electrical components situated to the southwest of the correctional facility with an underground electrical conduit.

In its comments, the BCPC stated that the preliminary plans showed a small area of the solar field within Zone AE of the Dunning Creek floodplain. It recommended that the plan show the base flood elevation or the elevations of the solar field.

“Our understanding is that land may be platted for development with the provision that the developer install structures to preclude flood damage,” the letter said.

Another comment stated that Bedford Township should be provided more information on the project that addressed issues such as if the lease would include a decommissioning plan for the solar panels at the end of their life cycle that would include restoring the land to its original state.

It is unclear if the recommendations given by the BCPC regarding the floodplain contributed to the change of location, as the township did not have to take them into account.

While the project has been granted an extension, the Hollidaysburg Community Watchdog member Richard Latker stated that “it still does not explain why the solar panels have been dumped there, unprotected, for so long.”

“The first COVID shutdowns were in March 2020, not 2019 as (Bedford County Commissioners Chairman Barry) Dallara claimed, and there were no significant supply chain disruptions in 2019,” Latker said. “Moreover, RER Energy completed a much larger solar project in New York state in April 2021.”

The New York solar project mentioned refers to the Lakeville Village Community Solar Farm in Livingston County that spanned 18 acres, as detailed on the RER Energy Group website.

The watchdog group also contended that the panels are rated for durability when installed at the correct angle and “not dumped in a field in random fashion.”

“It is doubtful any warranty would be applicable now,” Latker said. “Moreover, three of those 25 years’ expected life have already elapsed without a single kilowatt generated. The depreciation involved is obvious.”

While the DCED said that it is aware of the complaint filed on the project with the Office of the Inspector General, it gave no other details regarding the matter.

In its statement, the DCED also stated that the Commonwealth Financing Authority had released a portion of the $900,698 grant, but the grantee would be required to provide proof of the successful installation of the system prior to receiving the full grant amount.

“CFA will not release additional funds until the new site has been secured and the change of location has been approved by the Commonwealth Financing Authority Board,” the statement read. “If the project is not completed, funds already distributed could be clawed back in addition to not receiving the remaining funds.”

Dallara directed all questions to RER Energy Group, which has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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