August 28, 2020

Town approves bid for 21-acre solar farm at Cutchogue landfill

The Suffolk Times

By Tara Smith

Southold Town on Tuesday awarded a bid for a solar project at the Cutchogue landfill that officials say they’re confident will materialize.

Officials approved a resolution accepting a bid from Summit Ridge Energy, a company based in Arlington Virginia with offices in New York City and Chicago, to construct a 3.5 megawatt solar array and 1 megawatt battery storage facility.

“I’m really excited about this and do look forward to seeing a project there,” said Councilman Bob Ghosio ahead of Tuesday’s unanimous vote.

Earlier this year, developers from Summit Ridge presented the town with an unsolicited offer to lease a portion of the landfill, which led to renewed interest in the site by other companies. The town ultimately issued a request for proposals for the project, receiving 11 bids in total. Officials heard presentations from Summit Ridge Energy as well as Dimension Renewable Energy and BQ Energy Development during a work session Tuesday morning.

“I think the company ultimately we’ve selected really gave me the impression that we may see a working project there within two or three years,” Mr. Ghosio said. “It’s going to be a great benefit to the town…It helps us take another step towards fulfilling our goals as a clean energy community.”

Their proposal calls for installing a solar array on 21 acres at the town landfill and also locating a solar battery storage facility on the property.

According to the company’s vice president, Will Fischer, who presented the project to town officials Tuesday, their design would not interfere with current waste activities at the transfer station and represents a “symbiotic” system between the array and storage unit.

“[The battery] stores excess energy that the solar panels are producing that would otherwise not make their way back to the grid,” Mr. Fischer said. Summit Ridge, Mr. Fischer said, currently has battery storage projects underway in Southold, Riverhead and Brookhaven.

In addition, the company would work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure there’s no disturbance to the landfill cap by proposing the use of concrete ballasted blocks that do not penetrate the ground.

“Landfill projects are especially challenging and have a myriad of twists and turns,” he said. “We always do find challenges in the development process, but we’ve found our team has found a way to move forward,” Mr. Fischer said, highlighting the company’s experience in constructing solar projects at decommissioned landfills in Massachusetts and Maryland.

It’s currently pitched as a community solar project, which allows ratepayers to access solar bill credits delivered via the local utility company. Mr. Fischer said the company plans to make those credits available to town residents and the town itself, if officials are interested in subscribing.

Terms of their proposed financing options include a 25-year lease with two five-year extensions at a base rate of $335,000 per year. At an annual escalator rate of 1.5%, Mr. Fischer estimated the town’s cumulative 35-year revenue to be over $15 million.

The company has also proposed a two-year option period, which would pay the town $8,000 annually as they work on developing and permitting the project.

Next steps outlined in Tuesday’s presentation include submitting for an interconnection with PSEG-Long Island, submitting plans to the town Planning Board and NYSDEC, negotiating the lease terms with the town and securing what Mr. Fischer described as “crucial” incentives through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and PSEG.

“There’s lots of projects out there competing for those funds,” he said.

Since the utility company has not committed to renewing its community solar credit incentive beyond 2020, Mr. Fischer said it’s imperative the company move quickly to attempt to lock into the money.

Supervisor Scott Russell, who in the past has expressed doubt at the viability of solar due to a decrease in state incentives and a new emphasis on harnessing wind power, said he still supports the project. “I appreciate your candor in recognizing that there are certain difficulties but certain possibilities,” he told Mr. Fischer during Tuesday’s work session.

“We’re very excited about this project,” Mr. Fischer replied. “It’s well within our company’s wheelhouse.”

Five years ago, the town entered into an agreement with SunEdison for a similar solar project at the landfill, but plans for that project soon collapsed as the company declared bankruptcy. The town was involved in that lease agreement until 2018.

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