Energy firm wants to put solar panels on Riverhead landfill

NEWS REVIEW FILE PHOTO | An energy company has plans to place solar panels on Riverhead's capped landfill.

Riverhead Town’s troubled landfill on Youngs Avenue has been a financial drain in recent years, but officials now are planning to unveil a strategy they hope will turn it into a money maker.
The Town Board on Thursday will hear a presentation to install solar panels on the landfill, a plan that one town official says could generate enough energy to power all of the town’s facilities.
“We could take a financial disaster and turn it into a plus,” said Councilman George Gabrielsen, who has been working on the project with a Sag Harbor-based company called Long Island Green Energy.
The 76-acre landfill  was closed and then capped several years ago, after a failed attempt at reclamation  exhausted its entire $40 million budget after  only one-third complete. Supervisor Sean Walter has frequently said the town pays about $3.5 million per year in landfill debt service.
The solar panels would generated an estimated 10 to 11 megawatts of power, about the same amount the town government uses, according to Mr. Gabrielsen.
“We spend $2.2 million a year on electricity, it’s out of control,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.
Carlos De La Torre, senior vice president of Long Island Green Energy, said the company came across the Riverhead landfill while working on installing wind energy on area farms and learned about it by the growers.
Long Island Green Energy is proposing to lease the land from the town, and sell the energy generated at a cost that could be about 25 percent less than what LIPA charges, Mr. De La Torre said.
The project would include an educational component, possibly at Town Hall, with kiosks and instructors explaining how solar energy works, according to Chris Lettman, a business consultat for Long Island Green Energy.
The proposal would need LIPA approval, he said, adding that negotiations are underway.
Mr. Gabrielsen said that while the town has been working with Long Island Green Energy on the solar project, the town will still need to put out a request for proposals to see if other companies are interested.
He expects the town will be able to lease the landfill to a solar company for about $500,000 per year. The company selected would be responsible for construction costs, he said.
Town engineer Ken Testa said it’s not certain yet how much of the landfill can be covered in solar panels since parts of it are sloped. He said the town could still have a planned walking trail on the site along with the solar panels.
Mr. Lettman said the solar project must be  careful not to puncture the plastic cap that was installed on top of the landfill.
The idea of putting solar panels on the town landfill is not new.
A New Jersey company called New Age Energy made a similar proposal in 2009,  although for only about 20 acres. That plan never came to fruition. The landfill was mentioned as a site for solar panels when LIPA put out a request for potential locations, but it was not among the sites ultimately selected.