MANCHESTER – Will a solar farm be coming to Manchester?
Mayor Kenneth Palmer’s administration is filing the necessary paperwork with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities while holding preliminary talks with solar energy professionals about building a solar farm on the closed Whiting Landfill on Route 70.
A “solar farm,” according to Energy Sage, is “sometimes referred to as a photovoltaic power station, [and] is typically a large decentralized solar array supplying electricity to the power grid. The majority of these massive arrays are owned by utilities and are merely another asset for the utility to supply power to properties in their coverage area.”
Manchester Business Administrator Donna Markulic said the township has not entered into any binding agreements with anyone about a solar farm, “but we are excited about the potential opportunity to go green and offset electric costs.”
She added the paperwork needs to be submitted to NJBPU by Sept. 9, and the project must start within 6 months of receiving approvals. It was not immediately clear how long that approval might take.
The township has been in contact with Intek, based out of New York, for the installation and construction of the solar farm. NextGrid out of San Francisco would be financier and developer, Markulic said.
The landfill operated from 1958 to 1985, when state rule changes led to the closure of most municipal landfills. The site, a half-mile west of Route 539 on Route 70, still operates as a compost facility and recycling center.
Sixteen of the 95 acres of that site served as the original landfill. If the solar farm goes forward, the township would lease, not sell, the land, Markulic said.
The township was researching what it would take to cap the landfill when Intek approached it about creating a solar farm.
“During those discussions our engineers suggested the potential of placing solar on it for revenue. When Intek realized we had a landfill they asked to meet to go over some opportunities. It was learned in that meeting that a company like Intek could pay for the capping of the landfill and offset their costs by the town receiving reduced lease payments or we could pay for the capping ourselves through a bond and use the full ease payments to pay off the bond,” Markulic said.
A solar farm would offer at least several direct benefits to the township.
“First and foremost it benefits the town to ensure our landfill is capped as required by law. Capping restricts surface water infiltration into the dump site and reduces the potential of leaching from the site. There is also a community solar pilot project that could offset the cost of electric for some residents and a net metering option that would lower the Township’s cost of electric which would have a positive impact on the budget,” Markulic said. “Currently we spend around $660,000 in electric costs for Township buildings and operations. Since there are several different options and we are in preliminary talks, I cannot say at this point which program the Township would choose.”
Unless the township ultimately has to go to bond to cap the landfill, there should be no cost to the township for this proposed project.
“Right now we have Maser Consulting getting ready to do a delineation of the site to map out exactly how much area needs to be capped and then a cost analysis would be done to find out the final cost of capping it. Regarding just the solar part of it, we would not pay for anything, the solar company will handle all permits, equipment and labor,” Markulic said.
She explained that there “should be no impact” on the area once a solar farm is installed. There won’t be general public access to the site, but work vehicles will have access to perform routine maintenance.
“Upon speaking with a fire official there is no concern of danger from fire as these systems have fail safes built in to prevent fires. If somehow there was a fire the fire departments are equipped with dry chemicals and foam for special circumstances if necessary,” Markulic said. “All fire departments receive training on solar panel fires which are actually more of a hazard on a roof of a structure than on a cleared parcel of land.”