Clarkstown Solar Field: A Public/Private Partnership Designed to Save Taxpayer Dollars

BY CLARKSTOWN COUNCILMAN GEORGE HOEHMANN

Sometime later this year a portion of the former landfill for the Town of Clarkstown will take on a new use as a “Solar Field” that will save taxpayer as much as $4 million over the lifetime of the project. The project a public/private partnership is expected to be entirely funded by a private business entity with the town already being reimbursed $100,000 from the developer to cover its expenses. How did this occur? And more importantly can it be replicated elsewhere? A little review here will help set the stage for the reader to understand this unique way in which we will save dollars.

WHAT DOES A MUNICIPALITY DO WITH A FORMER LANDFILL?

Former landfills are considered waste sites and require maintenance and annual monitoring by a licensed engineering firm. The monitoring takes the form of quarterly and annual reports that are reviewed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Over time landfills can become host to other uses but most remain fallow and cost money rarely producing revenue in any form until many years after they are closed. As the reader will recall, the Clarkstown landfill was closed in 1995 and is under a consent decree with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation requiring limited use and annual monitoring.

As part of the closure the town was required to place a cap on the landfill that was then covered by approximately four feet of soil with venting pipes to allow for the release and monitoring of methane gases that occur from the decomposition of refuse. Throughout the landfill one will find numerous venting pipes many of which are now closed off as the gases have stopped emitting in portions of the landfill. In reviewing the reports to the NYSDEC one learns that in some places the landfill has dropped over four feet as the refuse and waste decomposes underneath the cap. The drop occurred over earlier years and in some portions of the landfill gas is no longer venting. The eight acre portion that will play host to “Solar Field” is on the southeastern corner of the property a relatively level area that long ago stopped settling.

HOW DID THIS OCCUR AND WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

In 2009 I was pleased to propose that the town consider another use for the landfill by seeking funding to construct “Solar Field” that will produce electricity to defray town utility expenses. In 2011 New York State passed a law that allowed for “Remote Net Metering” that allows for larger scale solar installations to occur that produce more electricity than is required on site with the excess going into the electrical grid. Using this new law change we proposed the creation of a solar field under a ”Power Purchasing Agreement”whereby the town sought a developer to construct and operate the solar field at its own expense. The town under this arrangement will purchase the electricity produced at a reduced price for twenty years and will own the solar field at the end where electricity will be produced at no cost.

In December of 2012 the supervisor signed an agreement with On Force Solar the private company that not only will construct and operate at its own cost the solar field but also fully reimbursed the town with a payment of $100,000 to offset costs for engineering and approvals from the state. Further, just last week the town agreed and the Supervisor was authorized to enter into an agreement with the New York Power Authority which will do a “White Paper” on the project and is also reimbursing the town with a payment of $5,000 to cover any added project expenses incurred by town staff. The white paper will be disseminated statewide as this is the first actual Solar Field project constructed in New York State. While these are commonplace in other places New York is new to the process and Clarkstown the first.

In closing we are indeed excited about this project—it is cutting edge and is projected to save the Town as much as $4 million over the next 30 years. While some will focus on the environmental benefits, I prefer to focus on the bottom line—we will save money and can fix costs long term for a portion of our electrical consumption and that will give the town budgetary certainty. Moreover, we will save upwards of $4 million over the life of the project which is welcome relief for our taxpayers.