Landfill site to sprout solar array
For 11 years, the Sylvester Ray Construction company dumped demolition debris in its 27-acre landfill on Clay Pit Road in Marshfield. When the lot was closed in 1988, it took two years for the site to be capped with a layer of clay at least 18 inches thick, covered with topsoil. For 20 years, the site seemed destined to sit dormant in an industrial zone north of Wildcat Woodland.
Then in 2011, state officials granted the site a post-closure use permit, and at a ribbon cutting on Tuesday officials unveiled a 3.87 megawatt-capacity solar panel project, marking the Sylvester Ray site as the 16th operational renewable energy landfill project in the state.
Four other sites — in Brookfield, Lancaster, Ludlow, and Methuen — became operational in August and September. With nine more projects — in Acton, Carver, Fairhaven, Lowell, Maynard, Rockland, Scituate, Springfield, and Sudbury — under construction, the number of towns producing renewable energy on former dumps will see an uptick of more than 50 percent next year.
A total of 42 landfill renewable energy projects have received approval through a state-run program that started two years ago, according to Ed Coletta, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
“The Patrick administration is always looking for clean, green renewable energy ideas,” he said. “These are sites that in the past served as dumps or landfills and got closed so they wouldn’t impact the environment around them. Most of them have just sat there, and this is a good way to utilize the space and reduce greenhouse gases.”
The Marshfield solar array is owned and operated by Washington Gas Energy Systems, and the company will sell the energy it generates to the town of Marshfield to power public buildings and schools at a reduced rate.
“It’s a blessing in many respects,” said Marshfield Town Administrator Rocco Longo. “Because it’s privately owned, we didn’t have to get involved in the process of procurement, but the good news is that we’re still contributing to reducing the carbon footprint.”
The town’s contract with Washington Gas locks in a power generation rate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next 20 years. Longo said that the town currently pays National Grid 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, but that rates generally increase on an annual basis, and so the town projects $4 million in net metering cost savings over the life of the contract. He also expects the new project will draw another $1 million in tax revenues during that period.
Similarly, thanks to a solar energy project that will be completed by January, officials anticipate that the town of Rockland will pay several hundred thousand dollars less for its utilities next year.
Boston-based NextSun Energy is installing approximately 7,500 solar panels on 7.5 acres of the old Beech Street landfill. The site will have a 2.1 megawatt capacity, accounting for half of the town’s municipal electricity needs.
The town owns the property, and NextSun has signed a 20-year solar purchase agreement with Rockland, agreeing to lease the land for $50,000 per year.
In turn, the town has agreed to purchase all the energy the site produces to power municipal buildings and schools, and has locked in a meter rate that is lower than what the town is currently paying National Grid.
Town Administrator Allan Chiocca said that knowing the cost of electricity ahead of time will help officials predict municipal operating expenses.
“It allows us to lock in an anticipated rate on that portion of our electric bill, so it helps steady the budget,” he said.
NextSun Energy, which has similar projects in Fall River, Littleton, Douglas, Rutland, and Chatham, specializes in these large-scale sites.
“We like working with towns and municipalities, mainly because they make great partners,” NextSun’s president, Jacob Laskin, said in a phone interview. “They’re there for the long term. These are 20-year projects, so it behooves us to have a partner that will be there 20 years. And if it serves the public, it’s a win-win for both us and the town.”
Coletta said the state has “had a lot of success on getting these projects approved, built, and into operation.” However, proposals are reviewed carefully, and that can slow the process.
“We don’t want something that will pierce the cap and cause odors or contamination to come through,” Coletta said. “We want to make sure that whatever the proposal is, it’s done properly, so there are no water runoff problems, odor issues, or problems with endangered species.”
The landfill program has a long history in the south suburbs. A 1.8-megawatt wind turbine in Hull that started producing in 2006 paved the way for the state program. The largest operational project in the state is a 5.6-megawatt solar farm on a 15-acre former landfill in Canton.
Canton’s site inspired the Rockland solar farm. Then-Board of Selectman Chairman Lawrence Chaffee read about Canton’s solar array and suggested a similar use for Rockland’s Beech Street landfill two years ago.
“The land was just sitting there,” Chaffee said in a phone interview. “This was an opportunity to get some use out of it.”
The Rockland contract with NextSun locks in a rate of 6.99 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first year, with a 2 percent increase in annual power rates after that. Currently, the town pays approximately 7.887 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“We believe it’s a good deal, since in the last 40 years, the cost of energy has increased on average about 5 percent per year,” Chiocca said. “It’s almost like doing a mortgage, locking in a low rate. I don’t know what future rates will bring, but with a 2 percent incremental increase, seven years from now, we’ll go to approximately the same rate for solar energy as we’re paying now” to National Grid.
Chiocca conceded the difference is less than .897 cents per kilowatt-hour in that first year.
“But when you’re talking about four megawatts, that’s a substantial jump,” he said. “The pennies add up.”