A massive solar energy project that sparked a backlash in Adams County has lost a second court fight.
The Commonwealth Court marked its decision “precedential” when it upheld a lower court ruling that denied a key permit to the Brookview Solar project in Mount Joy Township, outside Gettysburg.
That means the decision could inform future cases in which communities fight proposed development.
The opinion focused mainly on local zoning laws.
Tom Newhart, who owns an inn and a farm next to where the company planned to build, said there’s a lesson for everyone in the ruling.
“One should look at one’s ordinance and work on it to get something that makes sense. Not to say you’re totally blocking out anything, but put some restrictions on there to protect the public,” Newhart said.
Newhart and his neighbors had been fighting the project since 2019.
NextEra Energy Resources planned to lease 1,000 acres in the township, spread over multiple parcels, for the 75 megawatt Brookview Solar project, with panels covering about 500 acres.
To build in certain areas along Baltimore Pike, it needed a conditional use permit.
Township officials held a series of public hearings on the permit application. The board of township supervisor’s official vote in June 2021 was split. By law, that meant the permit was denied.
Denied because of local zoning standards
NextEra appealed to the Adams County Court of Common Pleas, where it lost.
The court ruled the project plans did not meet the standards set by local zoning. It found several deficiencies in the application related to stormwater management, access roads, and maximum lot coverage.
The court also upheld local zoning that requires applicants prove their projects won’t cause harm.
“Brookview has failed to prove by credible evidence that the proposed use will not detract from the use and enjoyment of adjacent or nearby lots, substantially change the character of the neighborhood, or adversely affect property values,” Judge Michael George found in his decision.
NexEra then appealed to Commonwealth Court, claiming the lower court made several mistakes in its judgment.
The three-judge Commonwealth Court panel found those claims had no merit.
“We reject Brookview’s request that this Court remand the matter to the Board so that Brookview can amend its original conditional use application with a new site plan. It had that opportunity before the trial court and chose not to use it,” Senior Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in the opinion.
NextEra did not respond to whether it plans to appeal further.
Mount Joy Township has since passed a new ordinance that bans solar development on prime farmland, known as Class 1 and Class 2. It also increased the setback distance solar panels need to be placed from homes and set a bond amount for projects’ eventual cleanup.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.