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Solar project may create energy savings at landfill


RODMAN — Even landfill operations can be powered by rays from the sun.

The Development Authority of the North Country has set aside $125,000 in its 2013-14 budget to install solar panels at its solid waste management facility, 23400 Route 177. The authority’s board of directors will consider approving the budget today.

Numerous photovoltaic solar panels would be installed at the landfill to supplement its electricity supply under the plan, said Richard R. LeClerc, solid waste division manager. The system, which is expected to create enough savings to pay for itself in 10 to 15 years, should help the authority control future costs at the landfill.

A network of approximately 100 small solar panels, each about 5 feet long, would likely be installed under the plan. The specifics will be determined if the capital project in the budget is approved.

“This would supply a noticeable portion of our electrical use at the landfill,” said Mr. LeClerc, who was a renewable energy educator for Jefferson County’s Cooperative Extension office before the authority hired him in 2011. “Once we recover the upfront costs, it will mean that our operational costs would be somewhat reduced.”

Drawing enough revenue to cover costs at the landfill has become increasingly challenging in recent years.

The amount of trash collected annually at the landfill has dropped by 115,062 tons in the last six years, from 354,989 in 2007 to 239,927 in 2012. There is less trash at the landfill mainly because of increased recycling efforts in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

Because of that trend, the authority decided to increase tipping fees it charges to the public to deposit trash at the landfill. Effective Jan. 1, municipalities and trash haulers with contracts at the landfill saw fees jump from $39 to $44 per ton, while fees for walk-in customers increased from $41 to $46 per ton.

It’s a trend that affects residents who put trash bags on the curb every week, too. When local governments and trash haulers are charged more to dump their trash, they usually pass on costs to the households that keep them in business.

That’s where the solar energy project comes into play to create savings, Mr. LeClerc said.

“This would ultimately help us in our efforts to maintain relatively stable tipping fees,” he said.

The landfill is already harnessing the methane gas it produces from decomposed trash to create renewable energy. The methane is channeled to an on-site gas-to-energy plant that operates generators to burn the gas into electricity. The authority benefits by selling the electricity on the open market and it reduces the amount of emissions that escape into the atmosphere.

The authority has built a gas distribution system with 26 wells to be used to capture the methane gas at cells 10 and 11, a project completed last March. Cell 9 is expected to be full this summer, Mr. LeClerc said, at which time the authority will begin housing trash in cell 10. The two cells take up 19 acres, giving the authority enough trash-disposal space for more than 10 years.

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