WEST NEWBURY – A closed landfill abutting Middle Street and Georgetown Road may turn out to be a good spot to generate solar or wind-powered renewable energy. West Newbury is one of eight towns in the Merrimack Valley whose inactive landfills will be analyzed by Meridian Associates Inc., the engineering consultants hired by the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission to identify the best sites in the area for installing commercial-scale solar photovoltaic panels or wind turbines.
The conversion of so-called “Brownfields to Brightfields” is aimed at reducing dependency on fossil fuel technology while providing energy-cost reductions for participating communities. Recently, the state has overhauled its energy laws, adding incentives designed to foster renewable energy projects on brownfields and municipal landfills. Under the Green Communities Act of 2008, 15 percent of electricity must be supplied by these types of new green power facilities by the year 2020.
When Methuen was awarded a technical assistance grant from the state Department of Energy Resources to explore the idea for its landfill, the city offered to work with MVPC to develop a “Brightfields” initiative across the region.
Since most towns don’t typically have the expertise or resources to implement this type of renewable energy project, what frequently happens is qualifying land is leased or sold to a third party energy company, which is then responsible for the installation and general operations of the facility. The town signs a power purchase agreement, or PPA, that allows it to buy all energy created at the site at a reduced price. There are generally no upfront capital costs or project risks for participating municipalities.
At a recent meeting with the Board of Selectmen, Rick Parker of the Energy Advisory Committee noted that an initial impression of West Newbury’s landfill by an MVPC representative indicated it “looked pretty good” as a potential site for the renewable energy technology because it is a large, flat space with decent southern exposure.
In addition to the Steele landfill in West Newbury, other inactive landfills under evaluation are located in Amesbury, Andover, Boxford, Georgetown, Newbury, Salisbury and Rowley.
The screening process involves analysis of site access, fencing, slopes, proximity to electrical power lines, condition of the landfill cap and proximity of cap-related structures like drainage swales and basins and landfill gas vents and piping.
Meridian Associates will review the areas where solar PV cells or wind turbines might be placed and estimate total potential electricity generation based on generally accepted conversion factors.
As part of their assessment, they will factor in the location of neighboring residential homes and other sensitive receptors that might be affected by the energy-related development. They are also tasked with contacting National Grid to discuss the possibility and associated costs of connecting a solar PV or wind-energy facility to the grid.
And they will determine wind speeds on the site at a height of 70 meters. According to DOER standards, a minimum average wind speed of 6.0 meters per second is needed for wind projects to be considered viable for any grant funding.
The consultants hope to complete screenings of all the sites by Dec. 15. Then MVPC will hold a regional meeting to discuss the results. The aim is to provide the communities with a list of options to help advance the development of renewable energy. The analysis will also determine if the sites have any flaws that would preclude the implementation of these specific energy technologies.
The federal government defines brownfields as “abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” In addition to landfills, other brownfield sites might include former gas stations or dry cleaners, parking lots, abandoned railroads, factories, warehouses or places where heavy machinery was stored or repaired.
Most commonly associated with solar energy development, the “Brightfields approach … transforms community hazards and eyesores into productive, green ventures,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
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