Local governments feed tens of thousands to millions of dollars into their landfills long after closure to continue protecting the environment and people, compelling some of them to find creative ways to offset post-closure maintenance costs and to potentially profit. In some cases, these localities convert closed landfills to active, useful community assets.
Two Maryland counties are among recent SCS Engineers’ clients who are converting their idle properties into revenue-generators that serve their communities—they are installing solar farms, a growing trend on closed landfills. This is consistent with the U.S. EPA’s Re-Powering America’s Land Initiative that encourages renewable energy development on landfills.
Siting solar energy installations
These sites are fairly flat, open spaces conducive to solar installation, and most are near power lines and in regions where real estate is limited and high-priced. While properties like these Maryland landfills provide ideal locations and are inexpensive, the projects command a robust multidisciplinary redevelopment approach. It takes proficiency in environmental and civil engineering designs that protect natural resources while maintaining landfill integrity. Look for consultants with both landfill and brownfields experience who know permitting processes, are up on local regulators’ hot spots, and have established relationships with energy service companies.
One of these projects on a closed county landfill will be a 6-megawatt system, sprawling over 170 acres, the largest solar project on county property. It will provide inexpensive, green electricity to low- and mid-income families, enough to power 930 homes, as well as power county buildings.
SCS Engineers was selected by Ameresco, the solar developer for both projects, to develop the required state and local permits. As the solar developer, Ameresco is performing turnkey services for the projects, including solar design, interconnection with the utility for sale of the electrical power, and operation of the solar systems consistent with a long-term agreement with both of these counties.
“This project will provide financial relief to people of the county and also help fulfill our client’s goal to advance green infrastructure and operations in county buildings,” says Mike Kalish, SCS Engineers Project Manager.
A full understanding of local regulations and proven engineering designs are key to success.
Pulling together the detailed engineering components to secure the state permit and local approvals are involved processes. Knowing the regulatory programs and potential impacts of the design and construction are key to quick and efficient navigation of the approval processes. “The faster you can get through permitting, the better for communities who want access to power. The county officials have made this decision while Ameresco is investing significant capital, and we want to assist in project implementation to enable a return on that investment as soon as possible,” Kalish says.
He and his team key in on what regulators look for and their anticipated trigger points and work to stay a step ahead.
“Because of our familiarity from prior work at these sites, we were able to avoid costly site investigations, thereby saving time in the permitting processes,” Kalish says.
SCS supports clients not just in developing designs that meet regulators’ requirements but verifying, documenting, and demonstrating compliance with all aspects and considering the long-term needs. For instance, meeting the fire marshal’s codes showing the proposed roadway design meets stipulations around access into the site and around solar panel arrays.
“We also take great care to maintain the cap’s integrity and ultimately its closure certification,” Kalish says. “But we have a holistic plan that accounts for more than the cap to be sure that the landfill is in its existing condition once we complete the project. For example, the solar panels mount on a series of ballast blocks that sit on the ground surface; there is no digging involved.”
“We are attentive to mitigating impacts to natural resources and ecosystems, just as we are diligent in protecting the landfill.”
“There’s also adjacent forest we need to go through to connect to the electric grid. So, in our evaluations, we take into account design considerations and impacts to forest conservation regulations as well,” Kalish says. “Maximizing development while protecting sensitive resources, as well as valuable capital assets, is a priority.”
“That’s a quick turnaround considering the diligence and attention to detail that large solar projects require, but it’s important to our client, so it’s our priority too. This is when knowing local regulations well is most valuable. As important is that we have a long-standing relationship with the client where we know the site’s history – all key to being able to move quickly and safely.”
The SCS Engineers and Ameresco Team
SCS is working with Ameresco, one of the largest renewable energy project developers in North America. SCS and Ameresco have very complementary skills. Whereas SCS has decades of experience in landfill engineering and permitting, including varied post-closure uses for landfills such as solar, Ameresco has extensive experience with renewable energy to provide comprehensive turnkey services from electrical design to managing the interconnect to the grid to negotiating the purchase agreements for the sale of power to utilities. The teaming relationship is vital to executing successful projects from feasibility study to design, all the way to completion.
“Ameresco is a very big player in energy, and we are large in the landfill engineering space. Both companies have offices nationwide. We work on over one-third of the landfills in the United States. Together, we have an expansive reach and breadth of experience in every essential competency to offer successful solar projects on closed landfills,” Kalish says.