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Final decision on Dover solar project expected Wednesday

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The long, arduous journey of Dover Township's proposed solar farm could be nearing an end.

After many hours of public testimony across meetings stretching back to November 2021, the township's zoning board is expected to make a final decision on the 600-acre project that's estimated to supply energy to power 12,000 homes per year.

Its detractors — most notably Keep Dover Beautiful, a nonprofit formed in direct opposition to the project — say the cost to farmland, residential property values, wildlife and the township is too great.

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"If somebody wants to put solar panels on the top of their roof, more power to them," said Jeffrey Shoener, the group's vice chair. "A business wants to install solar panels on top of their warehouse, go to it. What we are opposed to is an industrial complex of this size and magnitude." 

Enel Green Power project manager Brittany Staszak said the company was excited for Wednesday's meeting.

"It's the culmination of many months of hard work on our team and the panel of experts that we brought in from all over the country to address the concerns that the community has expressed," she said. 

Map of the location of Enel's proposed Dover Solar Project.

Dover Township Manager Laurel Oswalt declined comment on the upcoming hearing. Several other officials did not respond to request for comment.

Staszak said Enel's confident about the case they made that the project would generate long-term benefits for Dover Township and York County at large.

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The project has already received easements from 11 landowners to use their property for 30-40 years. It required a special use exemption by the Zoning Hearing Board, which was initially on the board's November agenda.

Since then, the matter was repeatedly tabled and hearings held at a larger venue — Dover Area Middle School — to accommodate the increased public interest.

Since December, the only agenda item for six meetings straight has been the special use exemption. No other item — even the approval of minutes or reorganization — has been addressed.

Shoener said Keep Dover Beautiful formed shortly after the December meeting.

"I became aware something was up on a large scale when the zoning signs went up along the affected properties," Shoener said.

From his perspective, no one should be calling it a solar farm. A farm, he said, grows crops and raises animals.

"Solar panels aren't a food, they're not a crop and they're not an animal. So it's a complete misnomer," Shoener said. "These are industrial complexes." 

Staszak said it's not uncommon to see people with questions or concerns as Enel Green Power has come into communities.

"We respect the comments and the concerns brought up by Keep Dover Beautiful," Staszak said, "and we hope that by our sustainable development practices and what we're showing to the community that we're not only addressing those but we have a long-term plan of action to be long-term members of the community." 

The lengthy meetings have seen testimony from both sides, including attorneys and experts for both Enel Green Power and Keep Dover Beautiful, as well as concerned citizens.

Staszak noted that Enel Green Power has made efforts to become involved in York County communities. That includes partnering with Dallastown and New Freedom Lions Club for tree planting in several York County parks as well as sponsoring York City's "Go Green" event.

The project also received support from the York County Economic Alliance.

"The special use exception that is currently being considered for Enel Green Power’s Dover Solar Project will support safe, efficient and effective diversification of our state’s energy portfolio, which will help aid future growth and economic development in York County," David Gonzales, YCEA's director of economic initiatives, said in a written statement.

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If the exemption is approved, the next step for Enel Green Power and Dover Township would be to develop a land use plan. That is, of course, unless the decision is appealed.

Shoener did not rule out appealing the decision if the Zoning Hearing Board approves the special use exemption. 

For her part, Staszak said she preferred not to say if Enel would appeal a rejection, saying she wanted to stay optimistic in advance of the meeting. 

The Dover Zoning Hearing Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Dover Area Middle School, 46 West Canal Road, Dover. 

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.