In Swiftwater, Pa, the state’s largest solar field, located on a mountain slope in the area obtained one of the final two permits to begin construction, but what does this mean for you?
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Apex Clean Energy received a National Pollutant Discharge-Elimination System permit for the proposed $111 million, 80-megawatt solar farm field on a private 644-acre on top of bear mountain, consisting of roughly 200,000 solar panels, on 490.07 of those acres, according to the permit.
This permit allows Apex Energy/Swiftwater Solar to conduct earth-moving activities for the project and make rules for how it will control soil erosion and runoff from the site during its planned construction, according to the permit.
“Apex is authorized to discharge stormwater from an earth disturbance activity to Swiftwater Creek, in accordance with effluent limitations, monitoring requirements, and other conditions,” according to the permit.
Effective July 21 of this year and is valid through July 27, 2027. Stormwater discharges associated with the construction of the planned solar field expects to continue after July 27, 2027, at which point Apex must reapply to renew the permit, said the DEP.
According to the permit, the site will have a weekly inspection, especially after any precipitation of 0.25 or more within a 24-hour-period, “to ensure effective and efficient operation.“
“We are very excited to have received approval on our NPDES Permit from PA DEP,” said Patrick Chilton, Public Engagement Manager for Apex.
“Pennsylvania has among the most rigorous environmental standards in
the country for projects like Swiftwater Solar, and clearing that hurdle is a big deal that brings us much closer to bringing this clean economic opportunity to the Poconos.“
Apex and Swiftwater Solar are “making sure we have all of our regulatory approvals before moving to construction,” said Chilton.
“Plans are to begin work on the site this fall.”
The vote was 4-1 by the Pocono Township Commissioners on June 6, 2022, in approval of the project, with the stipulation of obtaining the discharge and Stormwater Pollution Prevention permit. Although Apex has received the first permit, the last one is still pending. Even though local residents gave pleas of public and environmental health concerns, such as pollution. Many locals reject the idea of this construction due to concerns or at least want it delayed.
Jeff Hammond, the director of the Swiftwater Solar project for Apex, said the company spent two years on the project and was unsure if opponents would ever agree with the planned construction. Conditions upon the approval, placed by commissioners to put a bond in place to restore any/all damage to township roads due to construction. Hammond said it is “common practice” to bond repairs that would return roads to their previous conditions and even improve them for their work.
Vitol, a Dutch energy trading company, owns this project, built on land Apex purchased in August 2020. This property is east of I-380, adjacent to Sullivan Trail and Back Mountain RD, considered a recreational district.
On June 14, 2021, the township planners first accepted this proposal for review. Alex Jackson, President of the Broadhead Watershed Association, at the hearing before the commissioners’ approval in June, was in opposition to the construction on this land.
“Simply put, the mountain cannot handle this level of development.” He called the plan a “highly inappropriate use of this land,” said Jackson.
A letter from February to the township officials stated the Watershed Association strongly opposed the plan, this is due to the significant amount of “earth disturbance, deforestation, and stormwater runoff.“
“The amount of will significantly jeopardize the water quality of the Swiftwater and Pocono Creeks,” said the Watershed Association.
“The site will have a vegetative buffer up to 200 feet deep around it, and developers will plant deep-root vegetation on the fields where the solar panels are erected,” said Hammond, Director of the solar project.
“It also will construct multiple retention ponds to stop any erosion or heavy runoff from the project.”
According to Hammond, the project has revenue benefits for the township, including $250,000 a year in property taxes for the 40 years of its expected life. It would create 230 full-time-equivalent jobs during its eight- to 12-month construction. According to an interview this past June done by 69 News, the net financial income for the township expects to be $20,000 per year.