Hopkinton select board mulls solar installation on landfill

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2018 9:31:54 PM

The idea of putting solar panels on closed landfills is growing popular, as being seen by a project in the works for Londonderry and another possibly coming in Manchester, and now it’s being considered in Hopkinton.

“We’re at the incredibly beginning stages of this,” said Jim O’Brien, chairman of the town’s select board. “Right now the land is a capped landfill that’s not really doing much for us. Hosting a solar site would be a fine use for the property.”

Last month, the board heard a presentation from Dominic LeBel of Granite Apollo, a new New Hampshire development company for large-scale solar projects. Granite Apollo is behind a 10-megawatt project coming to the Auburn Road landfill, a closed Superfund Site in Londonderry.

LeBel had been given a tour of town-owned property around the landfill, which closed decades ago, O’Brien said. That property included land used for the town’s wood bank and composting area.

“They don’t know how much is usable for panels,” O’Brien said. The select board may vote in the coming weeks whether to sign an agreement that would allow Granite Apollo to “poke around and see what’s actually doable,” he said.

Putting solar arrays on closed landfills is growing in popularity largely because not much else can be built on the property due to concern about damaging the cap placed over the landfill.

Also, placing arrays on landfills can sidestep any environmental or aesthetic complaints that arise when placing them on open land – a problem that was seen in Concord, where the zoning board denied a proposed 10-megawatt, 57-acre solar farm because of concerns about its effect on the West Portsmouth Street area.

Another factor in landfills favor is that they frequently have good connections to the electric grid and are usually enclosed with fences to keep the public out, reducing costs that would be required to build a large solar farm on other land.

New Hampshire lags behind neighbors Massachusetts and Vermont in large-scale solar farms – those capable of producing about a megawatt, or 1,000 kilowatts, of electricity at a time.

The state’s largest array is a 2-megawatt, ground-mounted solar photovoltaic system built last year by New Hampshire Electric Cooperative in Moultonborough, followed by a 944-kilowatt system next to the wastewater treatment plant in Peterborough. The Londonderry array would be five times larger than the one in Moultonborough, while Manchester is moving ahead with a 3-megawatt system on its closed city landfill on Dunbarton Road, adjacent to Interstate 93. A solar farm as big as 65 megawatts has been proposed in Hinsdale, a small town near Keene, that has excellent connections to the power grid built for the now closed Vermont Yankee nuclear station across the Connecticut River. That site is so big it will require permission from the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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