ASHLAND — Could the former Ashland County landfill off County Road 1754 become home to a solar power facility?
That’s a question the Ashland County commissioners are considering after hearing a presentation Thursday from Kurt Princic of CEP Renewables.
Commissioners have not publicly stated if they are in favor of the project, though Ashland County Parks District spokespeople were not convinced it was a good idea, as the project could encroach on the adjacent and intertwined Byers Woods park.
CEP Renewables — a company based out of Red Bank, New Jersey — is proposing the construction of a 15 MW solar-powered field on the east and west parcels that formerly made up the county landfill.
The landfill first became operational in October 1970. It closed in November 1997. Since its closing, the county has been responsible for monitoring ground water and explosive gases at a yearly cost of around $80,000 to $90,000.
Princic said CEP has 11 solar projects online, most of which are located on the East Coast of the U.S. Some are located in Europe and Asia. One of them is located in Brooklyn, Ohio, in Cuyahoga County.
He said the company’s expertise lies in placing "community" solar power facilities on distressed properties, such as landfills and brownfields, which is land that has previously been developed but that is not currently in use.
“There is a reluctance to put (solar) on farm fields or green fields. Understandable,” Princic said. “There is a real interest in keeping that in the farming community. But that’s why we feel landfills are a great option and make a lot of sense.”
If the county agrees to the proposition, the county and CEP would enter into a 20-year lease for a negotiated annual price — typically within $1,000 to $1,500 per developable acre per year.
State law requires solar companies to pay $7,000 per megawatt produced toward property tax.
Princic said there are around 61 developable acres there, providing room for a total of around 15 MW. So having a solar power facility on the landfill could spell a lease priced at $61,000 to $91,500 per year, with another $105,000 per year in property tax revenue.
Commissioner Denny Bittle said the project is interesting.
“I think our job as a board is to look at everything that is presented to us. I don’t think we’d be doing our job if we didn’t look at that,” he said, adding he’s not convinced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would let the county walk away from its responsibility after 30 years of monitoring.
Bittle referred to the EPA’s mandatory post-closure monitoring program that began in 2005. According to the EPA, the standard post-closure care period is 30 years. However, time can be added or taken away.
Monitoring the landfill costs the county around $81,000 a year, paid for by tipping, or gate, fees paid by companies who haul trash to any landfill that originates from Ashland County.
“It’s not been a cheap closure by a long shot … and it’s paid by taxpayers,” Bittle said.
Meanwhile, the Ashland County Parks District sees the idea of putting solar panels on the property through a different lens. In 2006, the county entered into a 99-year lease with the Ashland County Parks District to use the land there for $0 a year.
The property, now known as Byers Woods, currently features fishing ponds, marshland, a playground and walking trails.
Tom Kruse, a parks commissioner, urged commissioners to push away the temptation of looking at the proposition through the lens of dollars and cents.
“The thought of putting solar panels across those cells would diminish the beauty of that park to such an extent, I just, I can’t — it’s unbelievable to think what it might look like with these solar panels across there. Hideous comes to mind,” he said.
Bob DeSanto, another parks commissioner, said the proposed swath of land for solar panels is not a “distressed” area and called Byers Woods the “second-most popular park that we have in the county” behind Freer Field.
“And there will be a day, if left alone, that that whole area — that Byers Woods area — will exceed the use that Freer Field has. Already, you can go out there at times and there are 100 people out there,” DeSanto said.
The area is also a Bobolink nesting site. The regionally-endangered bird uses tall grasses in prairies to nest starting in June through July, according to the Greater Mohican Audubon Society.
Princic said he has placed a call with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who he called the nation’s leading experts on birds.
“I have not heard back from them,” he said. “I don’t know the potential impacts or what that means. There’s still plenty of grass out there. That’s gonna be something the community has to decide. If that’s important, then maybe this project doesn’t happen.”
Princic noted concerns of solar panels causing sparks that could ignite potentially explosive gases is not a concern on this site.
HOW DID THE IDEA COME ABOUT?
Ashland County Solid Waste District Coordinator Jim Skora said he received a call “out of the blue” from Princic about the proposal.
“We’re just information gathering at this point to provide the concept. This isn’t something that was planned or anything that we’re pushing for,” he said.
But, he said, the proposal is “certainly a viable option for brownfields and distressed properties like landfills.”
“Because the value of that landfill is not the same as farmland or green land or other areas. Plus there’s no trees. So it’s a perfect place to put this asset on there, which generates revenue for the community,” Skora said.
Commissioners did not hint at what they thought of the proposal. But if it were to move forward, the commissioners would likely advertise a request for proposals in order to get CEP and other companies to compete for the project.
Watch the video below for the entire presentation, which begins at the 36-minute mark.