As residents in Falmouth and Brewster continue to debate wind turbines, a quiet option may face sunnier prospects. Dozens of towns across the commonwealth have already laid the groundwork to transform capped landfills into fields of solar arrays. Cape communities should examine this trend as a possible green power supplement to harnessing the wind.
Some Cape towns have already begun to explore this option. In December, on the heels of their historic decision to regionalize their school system with Chatham, Harwich voters unanimously approved another potentially historic recommendation: to create a solar energy farm on top of the town’s former landfill.
Boards in Mashpee, Chatham, Dennis, Barnstable, Eastham and Brewster have also explored the possibility of converting trash into cash.
In addition, local initiatives, such as Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative and My Generation Energy, are leading the way, encouraging towns and area residents to take advantage of solar power.
Local leaders looking for inspiration may turn to Canton. Solar panels placed on that town’s landfill are expected to generate upwards of 5.6 megawatts of electricity by next year. Selectmen Chairman Victor DelVecchio said the project could also generate up to $70 million for the town over the next 25 years.
Selectmen could also turn to local businesses, such as Cape Air and Cape Cod Cooperative Bank, both of which have installed solar panels, as have numerous individual home owners.
There are many upsides to using local landfills to site solar farms. Towns can use the power generated to ease their annual electric bills by millions of dollars over the life of the array. Communities could also lease the land to solar ventures looking for large swaths of unobstructed, unpopulated land. The effort could also provide some sense of self-sustainability, and could contribute toward more energy independence on a local, state and national level.
The state, which has offered an ambitious rebate program in an effort to spur interest in the solar sector, should continue this program, even in increasingly tight financial times. Similarly, the federal government, which has offered tax credits to individuals and businesses that invest in solar panels, should continue to provide this incentive.
Are there potential challenges? There are surprisingly few obstacles to converting landfills into solar farms. According to a report prepared in 2009 for the Environmental Protection Agency, the biggest problems included steep hills, maintaining the integrity of the caps, and the settling of the landfills themselves. The report also said that none of these potential issues were insurmountable.
Locally, solar arrays would also sidestep the issues of flickering lights and noise, the two primary complaints cited by people living in close proximity to proposed wind farm sites. This is not to say that solar should replace all turbine activity. But given the way popular sentiment is blowing, solar arrays may be a green alternative that everyone can live with.
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