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IN THE NEWS: Senate Okays Bill Permitting Solar Projects on More Capped Landfills
November 28, 2011

By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 28, 2011….Communities looking to develop renewable energy sources on capped landfills but restricted by state grant provisions would get the green light under a plan passed unanimously by the state Senate.

Under current law – written in 1983 - communities that received state grants from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to cover the costs of capping landfills are restricted to use the land for recreation purposes only. Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) sponsored a bill (S 2074) that would allow communities that received grants to also develop renewable energy projects on landfills. Cities and towns that did not get state money to cap landfills are not restricted to recreational uses.

Twenty-one communities received grants during the 1990s, but no numbers are available for the 1980s, according to Downing’s office, citing DEP data. In total, there are 324 capped or closed landfills across the state. The DEP has not taken a position on the bill, said spokesman Edmund Coletta.

During Senate debate on the bill, Downing said it would help the state meet its goal of achieving 250 megawatts of renewable energy - a number set down when the Green Communities Act passed in 2008.

“That was an ambitious goal at the time when we passed the Green Communities Act when we only had 3 megawatts. Today, thanks to our efforts we are already over 60 megawatts with more in production,” Downing said.

If the bill passes, a handful of communities that received assistance from the DEP Landfill Capping Grant program would be able to move forward with their energy projects – some of which are already in planning stages. The bill cleared the Senate 36-0, and now heads to the House.

Amherst ran into a problem this year when it tried to build a solar panel project on its capped landfill – which had received state grants to close. The town was in negotiations for a long-term lease with Boston-based BlueWave Capital Inc. to a build 4.75 megawatt project on the landfill. But it was blocked by a group of neighbors who filed a lawsuit, arguing the town was violating the agreement with the state restricting the landfill to active or passive recreation uses only.

The project is now on hold, according to Stephanie Ciccarello, Amherst’s sustainability coordinator.

“We saw the benefits it could offer the town as a renewable energy resource, help us be a little more self-sufficient, and certainly reduce our costs,” Ciccarello said.

Several cities and towns, not restricted by the grant provisions mandating recreational use-only, have solar energy projects on former landfill sites in the works.

Easthampton is nearly finished building a two-megawatt solar energy site, according to the town’s mayor. The city is working with Borrego Solar Systems Inc., a California-based company with offices in Lowell, to build solar panels on its former landfill.

“We started looking at this four years ago as a good reuse for a property that has no significant reuse value. This landfill didn’t fit to the recreation idea,” Mayor Michael Tautznik said.

The town will lease the landfill to Borrego Solar for a nominal fee in exchange for a purchase agreement. The city, which receives its electricity from Western Massachusetts Electric, will pay Borrego to generate the power at less than retail value, approximately 6 cents per kilowatt hour, and then the town will sell it to Western Mass Electric at retail prices, Tautznik said. City officials expect to make $80,000 in the first year of the agreement.

About a dozen other communities are somewhere in the permitting process for similar energy projects.

Adams is waiting for National Grid to agree to purchase the 1.1 to 1.3 megawatts of power a planned solar energy project will generate, according to town administrator Jonathan Butler. Tecta Solar had hoped to start construction in November, but is waiting for the utility to agree to buy the power, he said.

Once the project is up and running, Adams will receive a solar renewable energy credit, enabling the town to buy less expensive power, Butler said. Town officials estimate they will save $120,000 to $180,000 a year in energy costs.

Other communities are looking at projects, waiting to see if the law changes.

Braintree, which received a state grant to cap its landfill, is considering a solar energy project.

“We are still looking at the math, wondering if this is the right approach,” Mayor Joseph Sullivan said. “A project like this can offer great value in terms of recognizing the importance of solar energy. But it has to make sense economically as well. We are still looking at it.”

END
11/28/2011

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