Transitions previously unusable land into revenue-generating, clean energy asset
The Project Summary:
CEP and the Township entered into a public-private redevelopment partnership to redevelop the property into a 25.6 MW solar energy facility
CEP and the Township utilized an innovative tax sale foreclosure/ redevelopment deal structure that resulted in the Township receiving approximately $2.3 million in back taxes upon project completion
CEP foreclosed on the previously municipally-owned tax sale certificates and acquired title to the property, a structure that was feasible due to CEP’s ability to craft a liability-sharing structure with NJDEP and USEPA
CEP obtained all local, county, and state land use permits and state and regional interconnection approvals for the project and secured easements for interconnection
CEP selected CS Energy to design and build this project, making this CEP and CS Energy’s eighth project completed together
CS Energy completed the project on time and budget due to both its experience completing over 200 MW of landfill solar projects, as well as its strong relationships with Terrasmart, who provided the ballasted mounting solution, and Lindsay Precast, who provided the solar skids
Background: There are over 10,000 closed landfills in the United States, and it has been determined that closed landfills could host more than 60 GW of solar capacity - enough to power 7.8 million homes or the state of South Carolina. There has also been an 80 percent increase in solar landfill projects over the past 5 years, due in large part to the landfill expertise that has been developed by companies such as CEP Renewables, which currently has 16 landfill or brownfield solar projects under development. One of CEP’s most recently completed landfill solar projects is the 25.6 MW Mount Olive, New Jersey project, North America’s largest landfill solar project to date. CEP was selected by the Township of Mount Olive to redevelop the former Combe Fill North Landfill Superfund site into a revenue generating, solar energy asset due to CEP’s extensive landfill solar experience combined with its over 100 MW of solar projects completed in New Jersey.
The Situation: The Mount Olive property served as a municipal sanitary landfill from 1966 to 1981. When the owner of the property went bankrupt in the early 1980s, the property was abandoned and the landfill was not properly closed. In 1982, the landfill was placed on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List of Superfund sites. Due to its improper closure, runoff from the landfill was draining into local creeks and contaminating groundwater that nearly 10,000 community members depended on. Additionally, because the property remained privately-owned, it continued to accrue taxes that were due to the municipality over the course of the next 40 years that the site remained unused. The site was a drain on the town in more ways than one: water contamination and air pollution lost tax revenue and lost profits due to the inability to develop the land for commercial purposes.
Developing and implementing a feasible public-private partnership
Given that this landfill site represented a significant liability and tax burden for the town - having accrued approximately $2.3 million in back taxes over 40 years, the Township initially tried to sell the tax liens applicable to the property to a private tax lien investor. Most private investors were not interested in purchasing the tax sale certificates due to the risks associated with foreclosing on a property that was the subject of an ongoing Superfund remediation. Most commercial developers also did not want to purchase the property because environmental restrictions and NJDEP requirements meant that no commercial uses could be built on the sensitive, capped landfill without risking piercing the landfill’s protective seal. NJDEP eventually determined that it would only allow a solar facility to be built on this former landfill site and the Township adopted a redevelopment plan permitting a solar array.
“We’re glad to have been able to work closely with our reliable, long-time partners to convert yet another, previously unusable, landfill site into a renewable energy generating power plant. Only a small fraction of the 10,000 closed landfills across the U.S. have been converted into solar fields. The unique structure we used to implement this project now serves as a model that can be leveraged to redevelop more closed landfills into revenue producing assets that facilitate cleaner air, tax revenue, jobs, and more affordable energy for residents.” - Chris Ichter, Executive Vice President at CEP Renewables
Proper landfill settlement analysis to prevent piercing the landfill cap during construction and O&M
Landfill settlement analysis is critical in order to ensure that the design and construction preparation is adequate for installing the solar array atop the landfill, while avoiding damage to its protective layer. The stability and slopes of various sections of the landfill need to be determined through this analysis, which will then help with specifying where the best locations to enable site access are, given that there will be obstructions that need to be taken into account.
CS Energy completed a thorough landfill settlement analysis on this site prior to designing and engineering the solar installation and developing the site access plans. The company was able to utilize its experience on over 200 MW of landfill solar projects to conduct this analysis, which included the use of ground penetration radar to determine landfill weight requirements and the safest access points. CS Energy planned out the cable tray locations to ensure access in and out of each of these key areas, which is crucial not only for the installation of the solar system but also for ongoing operations and long-term maintenance work. Based on this analysis, CS Energy used only tracked equipment and, where required, low-ground-bearing pressure machines. Ultimately, CS Energy was able to design and build this project on time and on budget, without impacting the landfill cap, as a result of its significant preparation work and extremely cautious construction at each stage of the project’s design and construction.
“We’re proud to have been selected by CEP Renewables to provide our expertise for this impactful landfill solar project due to our track record of completing these challenging projects safely, on time and on budget. This is our eighth project with CEP Renewables, our seventh project with Lindsay Precast and our fifth landfill solar project with Terrasmart. Our strong partnerships with each of these industry leaders also enabled us to efficiently deliver this high quality landfill solar project, which will provide significant financial and environmental benefits to this community long-term.” - Mike Dillon, Director of Operations at CS Energy
Value engineering ballast blocks to minimize project costs
Being the largest landfill solar project in North America, every slight increase in product cost is multiplied and compounded across the entirety of this immense project. Also, the price of concrete, which Terrasmart’s ballast blocks are made from, has also increased more than 10 percent over the past year alone, adding further pressure to keep project costs down. Mounting solution companies need to be able to minimize the tilt of the solar array in order to reduce the amount and size of blocks needed while still ensuring high energy yields from the solar array. Additionally, in cold climate locations, the solar array tilt cannot be so low that an inordinate amount of snow is able to pile up and cause a great deal of stress on the racking system. This is particularly important for projects like the Mount Olive project, which is located on top of a sensitive landfill cap that cannot be pierced.
Leveraging its experience on several other large-scale landfill solar projects in cold weather locations, Terrasmart was able to successfully design and engineer their GLIDE ballasted mounting solution for this project such that the cost of the blocks was reduced by 50 percent. From wind studies to countless solar generation analyses, Terrasmart determined the optimal tilt and block size to help CEP meet its project budget and energy production goals - all while protecting the sensitive landfill cap. With over 20 GW of solar deployed across 4,800 solar systems, including its legacy business RBI Solar’s decades of experience in solar landfill development, the new Terrasmart has become the leading provider of solar racking technologies that provide solutions for projects located on all types of terrain.
“We’re pleased to have been able to design and engineer the ballasted system for this project as well as provide our GLIDE racking product for this landmark solar site. It was another example of successful partnership collaboration with our long-time partners, CEP Renewables and CS Energy, to convert a previously unusable site into one of the largest solar landfill projects in the United States.” - Dean Vukovic, GM of Ground Mount Division at Terrasmart
Streamlining a complex landfill solar project through seamless skid integrations
Landfill solar projects often require fixed-tilt, ballasted mounting solutions that do not pose a risk of piercing or otherwise damaging the landfill cap, which could result in the spread of hazardous contaminants. In order to ensure the myriad integration and delivery deadlines for the skid mount system are met, close collaboration with project partners is paramount.
Having completed over 4,000 skids, Lindsay Precast was able to leverage its steel skid manufacturing and integration capabilities, including on many landfill solar projects, and its close relationships with partners to help reduce on-site labor and schedules while maintaining the highest level of quality. Lindsay Precast’s deep understanding of the entire value chain of a solar project and ability to efficiently provide quotes and accurate schedule estimates made this challenging project as streamlined as possible. Lindsay Precast has also completed countless projects with Terrasmart and this project marks the company’s seventh project with CS Energy, which includes the award-winning Cuyahoga landfill solar project. The decades of experience Lindsay Precast has spent working with these partners enabled the skid mounting solutions for this project to be seamlessly integrated and delivered on time and within budget.
“It has been an honor to have been able to work closely with our long-time partners, CS Energy and Terrasmart, on this impactful landfill solar project. Having grown from producing 100 skids a year to over 1,000 skids a year, we look forward to continuing to grow as the nation’s premier skid supplier, including through additional projects like this that convert brownfields into revenue-producing solar power plants.” - Mike Freshwater, Business Development / Sales Manager - Renewable Energy at Lindsay Precast
Benefits and Long-Term Impact:
As a result of CEP, CS Energy, Terrasmart and Lindsay Precast’s extensive landfill solar project experience and collaboration, the Township of Mount Olive was able to not only recoup approximately $2.3 million in back taxes, but will also now benefit from future taxes that this property will provide. The electricity generated by the array is enough to power over 4,000 homes. The 25.6 MW dc of solar electric power contributes to the State of New Jersey’s aggressive renewable energy production goals. After 40 years, the property now has a long-term owner – CEP Renewables – that will be responsible for maintaining the landfill cap for the duration of the life of the facility. The Mount Olive project now serves as a model for the plethora of other closed landfill sites throughout the U.S. - both in terms of the redevelopment process as well as the design and construction execution, while providing cleaner air and more affordable clean energy for local communities.
The Future of Landfill Solar Project Development:
CEP is currently under development on at least 16 other landfill or brownfield redevelopment projects in New Jersey. However, without a dramatic change in the state’s policy and attitude toward these projects, creating more successes like Mount Olive will prove difficult, if not impossible. These projects are all certified by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) under what is known as the subsection “t” certification process. Subsection “t” is a subsection of the Solar Act of 2012 that provides a regulatory framework by which landfill and brownfield redevelopment projects receive state incentives. Once certified under subsection “t,” a project has two years to complete commercial energization. That timeframe is currently impossible due to a multi-year interconnection moratorium announced in April 2022 by PJM Interconnection, LLC, the regional interconnection organization that monitors New Jersey’s and other states’ electrical grids.
Due to the PJM delays, most of CEP’s projects will not be eligible for interconnection until 2027 or 2028 at the earliest. Although the NJBPU is aware of this, the most the Board has been willing to do is extend the 2-year construction period by up to one 12-month extension - which is not nearly enough time based on PJM’s published information regarding the delays and PJM’s interconnection reform process, which was just recently approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
CEP has petitioned the Board to reconsider the 12-month extension to provide sufficient time to allow these important and transformative projects to interconnect to the regional grid. Unless the state and the Board get behind these projects and allow them the time necessary to proceed, it is unlikely that the state will see more successes like Mount Olive.
CEP remains optimistic that the Mount Olive project can be replicated on additional closed landfills throughout the state with the support of the state and NJBPU, as landfill redevelopment solar projects are necessary to mitigate climate change and provide precious funds, cleaner air and more affordable clean energy to local communities, particularly those that have been burdened by these economically and environmentally destructive properties for decades.
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