One day later this month, Public Service Electric and Gas customers throughout New Jersey will plug in the holiday lights and they’ll flicker on with electricity generated at an old landfill in South Jersey.

The energy will come not from PSE&G’s traditional fossil fuel plants, but a solar farm now being constructed on the site of the old L&D Landfill straddling Eastampton, Lumberton and Mount Holly.

Solar farms are not new to New Jersey, nor is locating them on old landfills. Including the L&D site, the state has eight landfill solar farms, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.

What makes the L&D site stand out is the size of the project and how much juice it will generate.

new-jersey-solar trash dump to power station

By the time the last of the 41,720 solar panels is installed and the company throws the switch, the 53-acre site will produce enough energy to power 2,000 average New Jersey homes a year.

It will be PSE&G’s largest landfill-to-solar farm project and one of the largest in the nation, said Todd Hranicka, director of solar energy projects.

New Jersey, boosted by a 2012 law that favors repurposing environmentally tainted lands with renewable energy projects, is a national leader in the field, said Ryan Edge, a research analyst with the Solar Electric Power Association in Washington, D.C.

And bigger developments like the L&D site are probably the best way to go, Edge said.

“The larger the system, generally the cheaper it is per watt” to build, Edge said.

Edge said it can be tricky to reuse a landfill. Developers have to be careful to keep the landfill’s cap intact to prevent pollutants from leaking out, he said.

To prevent that, workers pour concrete into forms on top of the landfill that anchor the frames holding the solar panels. That’s essentially the only design difference between the L&D site and other PSE&G landfill solar farms in Deptford and Bordentown, said Project Manager Paul Morrison.

Hranicka noted that the project has been boon for laborers. On a recent day, 114 workers were installing the panels and connecting their wiring. As many as 190 worked on the site at one time, he said.

Outside of a little maintenance, the site will require relatively little hands-on effort once it’s up and running, Hranicka said.

Along with the jobs and clean energy the solar farm brings, what really fires up Hranicka is where it is located.

“It’s a perfect story,” he said. “It’s a marriage of a new technology and unproductive land creating clean, green power.”

Of course, at one time, the L&D site was productive. It was first a mine and then converted into an unlined landfill, according to federal records. Up until 1986, the pit collected the region’s household trash, non-hazardous construction waste and bulky waste like old appliances, said Hajna.

It was capped and closed, and then all that waste had to settle into the ground before anyone could consider any reuse of the site, Hranicka said.

A few years ago, PSE&G contacted Waste Management, now the owner of the site, about leasing it for the solar farm.

“We’re always looking to use our properties to their highest potential,” said Waste Management spokesman John Hambrose. Waste Management also owns the Bordentown landfill PSE&G leases for its 10.1 megawatt solar farm.

It took substantial work to get all the necessary approvals for D&L, Hranicka said, noting that besides the usual environmental and energy approvals, the project needed the OK from the three municipalities as well.

This could be just the beginning of new life for landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a 2013 report said it had mapped 1,600 landfills across the country as possible solar farm sites. Usually built near power lines, closed landfills have large flat areas that are ideal for solar farms and usually come at a good price, it said.

As he looked out over tens of thousands of panels about to feed into the electricity grid, Hranicka could barely contain his pride.

“As a solar guy,” he said, “this is it.”

Then he pointed to the west, beyond a ridge where the construction ended. There lies another part of the landfill that, if permitted, could double the electrical output off the site.

by Tim Darragh via

new-jersey-solar trash dump to power station