The owner of a popular Thomasville flea market is seeking to reorganize the business through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Morningstar Marketplace LTD on Feb. 3 filed a petition with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
While the market is profitable and coming off its best year since it opened in 1999, the solar farm at Morningstar "is a flub," said owner Andrew Lentz.
"I've had to invest $350,000 of my own money each of the last two years," said Lentz, who worked as an investor and mortgage banker before opening the market nearly 15 years ago.
He was one of many regional business owners, school districts and townships in early 2010 to use federal and state grants for solar projects.
But for one of the largest solar farms in York County, the grants weren't enough.
Approximately 4,500 solar panels were added in fields along Route 30 and Biesecker Road and at the market at 5309 Lincoln Highway West.
That cost included $3.4 million in tax-exempt financing, which was approved by the York County Industrial Development Authority after Morningstar paid about $137,000 in back taxes.
According to the bankruptcy filing, about $820,000 is also owed to additional creditors.
Lentz said it's his intention to pay back all creditors and just needs some time to do it, which is why Morningstar is reorganizing.
"I'm committed to paying it back. It's the right thing to do," he said.
The obstacle: The biggest obstacle in paying the debt has been that solar energy isn't worth much anymore, Lentz said.
His repayment plan was based on selling $200,000 worth of electricity to the grid each year.
The solar energy at Morningstar is enough to power the market and 50 homes nearby, he said.
At the time the solar farm was being planned, utilities were willing to pay $315 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, and the state Legislature was moving forward with six bills in favor of solar energy.
By the time Morningstar's solar project was complete, the bills had died and utilities were offering only $10.10 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, Lentz said.
"That's a huge drop. It's hard to make up that kind of difference," he said.
But Lentz is confident he can make it up in time and that the political climate will change.
"I think when we get a new governor, solar energy will rebound," he said.
What's next: In the meantime, the issue will go to court.
A status conference will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 18, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Courtroom 1 on the third floor of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse, 228 Walnut St. in Harrisburg.
Lentz said legal proceedings will not affect the market, which is visited by 20,000 shoppers every weekend.
When asked if any of the costs of bankruptcy would be passed on as higher fees to the market's 70 vendors, he said, "My goal is not to do that."
"And customers should know there will be no change at the market. For them, it will be business as usual," Lentz said.
—Reach Candy Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org.