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Developer plans DeWitt solar farm

Mike Roach presented plans for a solar array at a former landfill site.

Delisted landfill to be used

At last week’s Monday night meeting in the courtroom of the DeWitt Town Hall, solar project developer Mike Roach presented to board members and over a dozen residents, outlining a plan to build a photovoltaic farm on the site of a local landfill.

The project, as presented, will be completed by Central New York installers between early May and the end of September, with possible overage into October to allow finishing touches by electricians, Roach said.

Roach, who received his degree in renewable energy from SUNY Morrisville and has worked for the project’s general contractors RER Energy Group since 2013, said the landfill located between Fisher Road and Cedar Bay Park will be an “exceptionally good” site for the 1.98 megawatt solar farm.

A National Grid substation sits behind a nearby hill, and the large expanse of open, unshaded area would prevent the obstruction of sunlight meant to hit the farm’s aluminum-finish solar panels.

Roach said the close proximity to the Erie Canal and the foot traffic along its trail provides an opportunity to connect with the public on matters of sustainability as well.

“At this point in time, there is not a higher, better use for this land area,” Roach said. “In this period, we can put solar there and turn this unproductive parcel into an asset.”

The success of the solar farm will be evaluated over a 25-year term as part of a power purchase agreement with RER Energy Group and the Town of DeWitt. Continued maintenance will occur on the site over that time period, after which different maintenance options can be pursued.

The solar panels, each of which can last decades, will be replaced if and whenever necessary. After the first seven years, the town can purchase the array.

“There’s really little reason to suspect this is not going to be a valuable entity at the end of its contract,” Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko said.

The solar array, designed to be ballasted with concrete blocks and proposed to cover 11 of the landfill’s almost 50 acres, will save DeWitt approximately $2 million in utility expenses and avoid the release of about 635 metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions over that quarter of a century, according to Roach.

The facility will cover the majority of electric needs in the town, the only noted exception being street lights, according to the plan.

“It’s a tremendously progressive idea,” said Dennis Payne, chairman of the DeWitt Advisory Conservation Commission.

The design plan also includes fortified fencing around the landfill, which has been closed since 1994, to help restrict unlawful access. The array will be engineered to withstand inclement weather, like wind or snow, and additional time has been built into the project schedule to pull construction vehicles off the site and wait for poor weather conditions to pass.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation imposed a set of routine guidelines for construction of the solar farm. These include limitations on puncturing the 30-inch cap system and rubber membrane below the landfill’s surface. Circular areas will contain vent pipes separated from solar panels by a 30-foot radius. Measures will be taken to both protect against erosion and prevent harm to wildlife, such as the endangered grasshopper sparrow that inhabits the landfill.

This project follows other sustainable projects that have taken place in the town throughout the past decade. In 2011, a 55 kilowatt solar array was installed on the roof of the town hall, at the time the largest rooftop array in Onondaga County. The town also participated with Solarize Syracuse, a grassroots movement that raked in over 70 signatures on contracts instituting sun-powered systems in homes and businesses in 2014.

The presentation comes on the heels of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call in December for carbon-free sources to constitute 100 percent of the state’s energy usage by 2040.

“My personal bias is to get away from burning things whenever possible,” Roach said. “It just seemed to me that the logical evolution is going to take us to electrifying everything. Fortunately solar has a way to do that.”

Peter Wirth, of Manlius, stood up to read a one-page statement commending the solar farm plan during the meeting. Wirth said such projects aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption are “absolutely a necessity.” He said he has been interested in protecting the environment since the first Earth Day in 1970.

“It’s really exciting to see the town take such an active role in being a leader and providing a demonstration for other communities in Central New York,” Sam Gordon, the director of planning and zoning in DeWitt, said. “If you think about the scale of the challenge of climate change, this is a very small drop in the bucket, but lots of small drops in the bucket fill it.”

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