|A solar panel is displayed at the capped Town of Clarkstown landfill in West Nyack June 25, 2014. The 13 acre field will soon be filled with solar panels.|
WEST NYACK – This is a first: A former landfill in Clarkstown will soon be covered with thousands of solar panels and converted from a mound of buried trash into a power-generating, money-saving dynamo.
"This project could power over 200 homes," said David Sandbank, the president of OnForce Solar. "It's a big deal."
Town officials and representatives from OnForce, the company financing and building the solar field, gathered Wednesday at the landfill, just south of the Thruway on Route 303, to announce the start of construction. When work is completed sometime in the fall, and 4,297 panels replace the wooden stakes now arranged in neat rows on the grassy hill, the Clarkstown landfill will be the first of its kind in the state.
Officials said they hope it won't be the last.
"We believe we're trendsetters on this," Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack said. "What's good in Clarkstown could be good in other communities in New York, especially in economically difficult times. It's good for the environment and taxpayer. It's a home run."
The town is expected to save $4 million in energy costs over a 20-year-agreement to buy some of its power from OnForce, which will own and maintain the 2.3 megawatt system. The nearly 3 million kilowatt-hours will provide about a third of the town government's electricity, offsetting 2,030 tons of carbon emission every year, according to the company.
The cost of the project, between $7 million and $8 million, is borne by the company, which received millions of dollars in subsidies from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Councilman George Hoehmann, credited with suggesting the town install solar panels on the landfill, said recent changes in state law, coupled with a new emphasis from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on developing solar power, made the project possible.
The site is a natural location for a solar field. As a capped landfill, its uses are tightly restricted. And there are no buildings or trees to provide shade.
Hoehmann said the deal with OnForce, which cost Clarkstown nothing, will provide the town with certainty regarding its electricity costs, which can vary wildly from year to year.
"We know the power we purchase (from OnForce) has a set price and will increase 1 percent a year on average," he said.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, New York's capacity for solar-generated electricity is expected to grow tenfold — from 8 megawatts to 80 megawatts — from 2009 to 2015.
John Markowitz, a lead research engineer with the New York Power Authority, said expanding solar capacity has a variety of benefits, from diversifying the state's energy sources to reducing its carbon footprint.
What's happening on the Clarkstown landfill is part of that, he said, adding that NYPA is preparing a white paper on the town's partnership with OnForce.
"We think this is a repeatable process that can be duplicated in other municipalities," he said.