New facility off Route 303 to connect with power grid, save town on power costs
BY BILL DEMAREST
WEST NYACK – The Town of Clarkstown is turning trash into treasure.
“This really is a case of turning trash into treasure,” said Clarkstown town Supervisor Alex Gromack as he and fellow Town Board members gathered at the old landfill just off Route 303 for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new field of solar collectors that will be erected on a 13 acre section of the former landfill.
The solar field is expected to be completed in the fall and will produce energy that will be fed into Orange and Rockland Utilities power lines adjacent to the old landfill on Route 303. Clarkstown is projecting that it will save taxpayers as much as $4 million over 30 years by reducing the amount of the town’s annual electric bill – which is about $2 million.
Town Board Member George Hoehmann, who proposed the solar field project in 2009, said the project is the first of its kind in New York: Using a capped former landfill – a site highly-regulated by state environmental officials – to build a solar field. Hoehmann said other municipalities around the state – even New York City – have tried to use their landfills as solar fields but have not been able to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals.
Hoehmann said the installation of the solar panels has been found to be harmless to the old landfill and will not damage the protective materials placed beneath the covering soil on top of the trash. Additionally, Hoehmann said changes in utility regulations made it possible for the town to create a solar field that would produce energy and have Orange and Rockland Utilities use the power for its system.
The 2.3 megawatt system will have about 4,300 panels on the 13-acre site, and is expected to generate 3 million-kilowatt hours. That’s enough power to supply about 200 homes, and will cover about one-third of the electric needs of the Town of Clarkstown government.
Francis Peverly, O&R vice president – operations, said there are about 1,200 solar installations on the O&R electric system, generating about 20 megawatts of electricity. About 450 of those 1,200 installations are in Rockland County.
When the Clarkstown solar field goes online, Peverly said that one site will be producing 10 percent of all the electricity that O&R gets through solar power.
The estimated $8 million project, however, is not being funded by Clarkstown. Instead, the town has entered into a public-private partnership, in which OnForce Solar will build and operate the solar installation. The private company is financing the project and also benefitting from state grants worth about $2.4 million. The planning and development of the solar field cost Clarkstown about $100,000, but OnForce Solar has reimbursed the town for those costs.
OnForce Solars says the project installation will use about 100 union electricians during the three-months of construction at the old landfill site.
As local officials had a ceremonial groundbreaking at the old landfill, many joked that the solar field was Hoehmann’s own “Field of Dreams.” While they noted the project makes perfect sense today, when Hoehmann brought up the idea in 2009 there were numerous obstacles in the way of the project – ranging from financing to using the old landfill as a solar site.
“This is just the first of many solar projects the town will have,” said Hoehmann. “We are looking at other options on town property and buildings. This is one sure way that we can help cut costs for the taxpayers.”
Hoehmann, who is executive director of the Rockland Independent Living Center in New City, said that he got the idea for the solar field from his experience at Camp Venture. While leading that organization, Hoehmann said Venture installed solar collectors on several of its buildings – becoming the first organization in the state to have solar panels on group homes.
Gromack said he was especially pleased that a site that was once a major financial drain and environmental problem for Clarkstown could be turned into a money-saving resource for taxpayers and to help the environment by reducing the town’s “carbon footprint.”
Clarkstown closed its old landfill in 1997 and the dump site has been capped to prevent pollutants from reaching the nearby environment. The town has since sold off the trash transfer station at the landfill to the Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority.
The Clarkstown solar field project is at the maximum size that is currently allowed by New York State. While Clarkstown will still mow the grass on the old landfill site, the solar field will be monitored and operated by OnForce. When the solar field is operational, Hoehmann said the town will have a feature on its web site that will show the amount of energy production by the solar field.
“The Town of Clarksown has been very forward-thinking,” said Charles Feit, CEO of OnForce Solar. “They recognized the economic benefit to the town, to the county, to everyone.”
The Clarkstown solar site, according to town and OnForce officials, is just about perfect because it is a relatively flat location that does not have any shade. The site is expected to be an excellent source of solar power throughout the year.
Among the many public officials at the groundbreaking for the solar site were representatives of the New York State Power Authority. The agency is producing a “white paper” on the Clarkstown project so that the town’s experience can help other municipalities throughout the state launch their own solar field projects.
“We had a great team of people working on this project,” Hoehmann said. “It took a tremendous amount of work. It’s gratifying to know that our work here will be able to help other municipalities try to accomplish something similar.”