Solar farm on former landfill safe bet, SWACO says


By Mark Ferenchik - The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)



The new solar farm proposed for a former landfill and golf course site will not put the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio at financial risk, its executive director said.

SWACO is leasing 173 of the 186 acres near Interstates 71 and 270 in Jackson Township to BQ Energy LLC of New York for 25 years.

“They have three years to start development and get the project up and running,” said Scott Perry, SWACO’s operations manager.

BQ Energy will pay SWACO $10,000 a year for the first three years. If the company does not begin developing the site during that time, the contract dissolves, but SWACO would not be out anything, said Ty Marsh, the agency’s executive director.

“We could contract with somebody else,” he said.

Some may recall the city of Columbus’ ill-fated trash-burning power plant, which some dubbed the “cash-burning power plant” that cost $200 million to build, opening in 1983, closing in 1995 and demolished in 2005.

It was the green energy idea of its time, but ended up a big headache, costing taxpayers more than $400 million to pay off debt and creating environmental hazards.

Marsh said the solar park project is nothing like that.

“We’re not at risk financially,” he said.

Miranda Leppla, the vice president of energy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council, said placing a solar farm on a former landfill is a smart reuse of a brownfield site.

Leppla said she’s sure SWACO will find an operator, and that there will be a market for the power.

“People understand the risks of climate change,” Leppla said. “There is significant demand for clean energy around the state. And from citizens across Ohio.”

In the deal with BQ Energy, Columbus Solar Park plans to generate 50 megawatts per power a year, enough electricity to power 5,000 households.

BQ Energy will spend about $70 million to install the solar panels. SWACO will receive an escalating rental payment per megawatt of installed electricity capacity.

SWACO officials expect the panels will generate $12 million over the 25 years.

“We feel it’s a good project. It will generate non-tipping fee revenue for SWACO,” Marsh said.

SWACO inherited the landfill in 1989.

“The genesis behind this is every landfill has to have a closure fund. You have to put in a portion of revenues into a fund so that when landfill closes there is money to maintain it.” Marsh said.

“The old landfill there closed around 30 years ago. The closure fund was depleted. Expenses down there were $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

“It costs money to pay for a closed landfill. We needed something to offset expenses.”

SWACO began managing the closed landfill in 1987. In 2000, The Phoenix Golf Links opened. It closed in 2015 when an operator could not be found.

Methane gas had been leaking from a gas-collection system underneath it. SWACO and the golf course operator each said the other was responsible for fixing it.

The dispute went to court. In January 2014, they settled, with the former golf-course managers receiving $2.3 million to buy out their 30-year lease. SWACO received control of the property and course.

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By Mark Ferenchik

The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

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