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The Transformation of the Fort Edward Landfill: A Solar Success Story

Credit: GreenSpark Solar
Introduction

In the fall of 2019, the Town of Fort Edward issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) with a vision unique for its time: to transform a closed landfill into a vibrant solar energy hub. Years before the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) brought increased attention to the potential for brownfield clean energy projects, the town sought to repurpose a site burdened with a legacy of hazardous waste into a beacon of renewable energy. With the primary goals of increasing municipal revenue, reducing residents' energy costs, re-energizing undervalued land and advancing environmental sustainability, the Town of Fort Edward embarked on a journey that would epitomize innovative brownfield redevelopment.


Site History

The Fort Edward Landfill, spanning approximately 58 acres, was in operation from 1969 until its closure in 1991. During its operational years, it accepted municipal and industrial waste, including polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-containing materials, begetting a history of contamination which posed significant challenges for redevelopment. The landfill was permanently capped in 1998, with additional strengthening added in 2016, but it remained a complex site for any new use due to this site’s historical environmental concerns.


Credit: Kendall Sustainable Infrastructure

As a young, mission-driven company actively monitoring the evolving and pioneering solar incentive landscape in our home state of New York, this site caught our attention. In October 2019, AC Power responded to the RFP issued by the Town of Fort Edward, which was looking for innovative solutions to repurpose the now-dormant site. This was not the first attempt by the town to find a developer. The initial RFP failed to attract sufficient responses, underscoring the challenges and perceived risks associated with the site, and the lack of robust industry expertise in transforming challenging sites into solar power hubs. AC Power assessed these challenges and saw potential where others did not, proposing a 6.9 MW project which would bring reduced cost, clean energy to the surrounding community while supporting the Town’s economic goals.


AC Power's proposal stood out due to its comprehensive approach, including site assessment, environmental remediation planning, and a detailed economic plan. As a participating contractor in the NY-SUN Program, a program founded in 2012 and expanded in 2016 to include support for community solar, AC Power was able to apply program incentives to applicable projects, making them more economically viable. The development team emphasized the community benefits, such as job creation, educational opportunities, and substantial reductions in local energy costs through emerging community solar initiatives.


Having been founded three years earlier and with just a couple completed projects under our belts, AC Power was just coming into its own as a brownfield developer in a market with sparse competitors. But the decades of combined experience on the team shone through, and The Town selected AC Power’s innovative proposal.

AC Power assessed these challenges and saw potential where others did not, proposing a 6.9 MW project which would bring reduced cost, clean energy to the surrounding community while supporting the Town’s economic goals.

Challenges

We like to say that each project we work on is challenging in its own way. But the Fort Edward Landfill project was a testament to the success that can be found in working with committed, passionate partners. AC Power collaborated closely with LaBella Associates, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and environmental engineering firm Arcadis to navigate the complexities of the site. GreenSpark Solar, meanwhile, provided the engineering, procurement, and construction services essential to the project’s realization. Kendall Sustainable Infrastructure is the long-term owner and operator of the project.


"This project really exemplifies what’s possible when companies and governments partner to do something and turn what could be viewed as an environmental burden into an environmental asset," said Noah Ginsburg, Executive Director of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.


One of the major hurdles was the requirement for ongoing maintenance and monitoring of the landfill cap and leachate collection systems. In June 2021, AC Power received NYSDEC approval for the project. However, further assessments revealed potential issues with leachate management, necessitating redesigns and additional approvals. The project's timeline was adjusted to accommodate these unforeseen requirements, emphasizing the flexibility and problem-solving skills needed in such challenging developments.

More than 300 residences and more than 100 small businesses have subscribed to the project.

All in all, the project required creativity, perseverance, and a range of expertise – but mostly, it required a municipality that was dedicated to getting this project done. In this regard, the Town of Fort Edward stepped up to the plate.


Community and Economic Benefits

With the red tape successfully navigated, AC Power partnered with Kendall Sustainable Infrastructure, a clean energy development and investment firm, to act as the long-term owner/operator of the site. AC Power is also working with KSI on its project in Queensbury, NY, expected to come online before the end of the year.

"Creating green, clean energy, and doing it in a way that is cost effective and that saves ratepayers money, is one of the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunities we face. This is a wonderful example of how that can be done," said New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of the project.

The ultimate construction of the project promised to bring about significant benefits for the Town of Fort Edward and its residents. Most obviously, the project converts a site that had previously been seen as non-usable to a workable asset within the community. As a community solar project, more than 860 households can subscribe to the project, guaranteeing lower electricity bills and access to clean energy, promoting energy equity and encouraging the participation of the community in sustainable practices.


Currently more than 300 residences and more than 100 small businesses have subscribed to the project. The project also contributes to the sustainability goals of the town in that it creates clean, renewable energy. This 6.9 MW solar array will dramatically cut down on the carbon footprint in the area and help New York State reach its high targets for renewable energy.


Added to this are the land lease payments, ensuring a stream of revenues for the town that is estimated to run into the thousands annually, guaranteed with an escalation rate for the financial benefits over the long term. The PILOT payments to the town have a structure that gives increased revenues over the first 15 years, generating more than $100,000 over the life of the agreement. This financial model, when taken with the more than $500,000 in taxes generated for the county and the local school district, balances immediate community benefits with sustainable, long-term growth.


"Creating green, clean energy, and doing it in a way that is cost effective and that saves ratepayers money, is one of the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunities we face. This is a wonderful example of how that can be done," said New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of the project.


Conclusion

The transformation of the Fort Edward landfill into a solar farm exemplifies the potential of innovative redevelopment projects. By turning a challenging site into a source of clean energy, the Town of Fort Edward and its partners are setting a precedent for sustainable urban redevelopment. The project tackles environmental repurposing while also providing substantial economic and community benefits, positioning Fort Edward as a leader in renewable energy and community resilience.

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