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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Bright Ideas: A Solar Solution at the Weibel Avenue Landfill

By | Business

SARATOGA SPRINGS – In the words of Sustainable Saratoga representative Larry Toole, the land where the capped Weibel Avenue landfill sits is currently “useless.” The nonprofit, grass-roots organization hopes to change that and use the land as a location to harvest sunlight for solar energy, which if successful, could eventually allow residents who wouldn’t normally be able to utilize solar energy the chance to buy into production capacity and offset electric consumption in their own homes.

 

“Solar power in landfills is a trend that really started to take off in the last five or six years, and we believe it will continue to be an option that cities explore all across the country,” said Toole. “There are obviously thousands and thousands of landfills in the country.”

Toole made a presentation at the October 16 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting and unveiled the plans for the “Spa Solar Park.” The two-phase plan would first deal with ways to curb the city’s electricity consumption before looking into how city residents could take part. Phase one involves placing a one megawatt solar array at the Weibel Avenue Landfill.

“The Solar Park is a concept to take a piece of land that really right now is a neutral piece of land that’s just sitting there,” said Toole. “It’s unsuitable for just about anything else than to just be open space near the city. Here’s an opportunity to take land that can’t be used for any other purpose and turn it into something that could become an asset to city government and the community.”

While a one megawatt solar array isn’t enough to power the entire city, Sustainable Saratoga estimates the array could maintain 110 standard homes in Saratoga Springs. In fact, if you take away the power used by one of the city’s highest consuming facilities - the water treatment plant - the single solar array could offset as much as 50 percent of the city’s electricity use.

If the array ever began producing more electricity than required, it would simply return that power to the general electric grid.

“The array would be what’s called ‘grid-connected,’ so if there were a situation where the array was generating more electricity than was being consumed by the city, it would be put out on the grid. In effect, the amount being put out on the grid could be used to offset the city’s electric bill moving forward,” said Toole.

You may have read about another capped landfill being used for solar energy in Clifton Park. Toole said that while the ideas are generally similar, the city’s involvement with the solar park is what sets it apart from the Clifton Park proposal. He added that the southern Saratoga County town’s plan is simply leasing the land to a solar developer, who then sells the electricity themselves.

“As part of Sustainable Saratoga, we want to reduce our city’s carbon footprint,” said Toole. “We want to reduce the amount of carbon emissions that our city is adding to the atmosphere. The only way to do that is to have our electricity tied directly to the solar array. Just leasing the land and letting a developer come in and not have it tied to your own electric meters, you can’t claim that.”

The unique aspect of the Spa Solar Park proposal is Phase Two, which Toole calls “innovative.”

The community solar aspect would involve placing a second megawatt solar array at the landfill, which would provide city residents who wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to use solar power a way to take advantage of the land.

“We’d be looking for people in the community whose homes might not be ideal for solar panels,” said Toole. “Their rooftop might not be positioned relevant to the sun or their property has too much in the way of shade, which means it’s not economically feasible, unless you want to knock down your trees to do solar. Here, you could buy into production capacity in the solar array on Weibel Avenue.”

The concept is called “virtual net metering,” which New York State took steps toward legislating this summer when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly Bill 6270. The bill would allow electric customers to combine their electric meter on property they own or lease with the solar energy produced at the solar park.

“It’s accomplishing the same thing as someone who has actual solar panels on their roof,” said Toole.

During his presentation to Saratoga Springs City Council, Toole stressed how little the city has to lose by considering this proposal. An analysis performed by the organization determined that if the project receives the proper grant funding from organizations like the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as well as federal tax credits, it could build the solar park without the city spending money to begin the process.

“This is a no-risk approach,” added Toole. “We’re not asking the city to put any money up front. We’re simply asking the city to invest some time and resources through moving through these steps. If it’s a go, we move on to the next step. If we come across something that doesn’t work from the city’s perspective then the city can just opt out.”

The solar park proposal would be up against other projects across the state for that NYSERDA funding, but Sustainable Saratoga believes their community aspect outlined in the proposal’s second phase is what could possibly put them over the top.

In the meantime, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan has indicated her department would be issuing a request for proposals (RFP) “very soon” to gauge interest from solar developers hoping to work with the city.

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