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Virginia-based company ‘highly interested’ in solar project at Southold Town landfill

Plans for a solar array at the Southold Town landfill are once again on the horizon. Summit Ridge Energy, a Virginia-based company with offices in New York and Chicago, has submitted a preliminary proposal to the town, Councilman Bob Ghosio announced at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

“They are highly interested, motivated and they feel they can get the project done in a fairly short amount of time,” Mr. Ghosio said.

Their proposal calls for installation of a ballasted solar array on an unspecified tract of leased land at the town’s 60-acre landfill. It would generate approximately 6 megawatts of power, Mr. Ghosio said. According to a project proposal drafted by Summit Ridge Energy, the solar panels would be attached to metal racking that is anchored using ballast blocks instead of traditional steel piles to minimize disturbance on the landfill cap and avoid disturbing existing drainage, venting and monitoring systems.

The developer would need to secure a purchase-power agreement with PSEG-LI. The developer also proposed that the solar array to be a “community solar project,” that allows customers to purchase solar energy — even if they don’t have the infrastructure in place at their homes.

Southold Town would receive quarterly lease payments for the acreage occupied by the solar array for the duration of the agreement, which is proposed for 25 years with two optional five-year extensions.

Mr. Ghosio, summarizing what he called a “very productive” meeting with company representatives last week, said the proposal includes a 30-day due-diligence period and other deadlines to ensure that project can be completed. He also said it includes opt-out methods. 

“We won’t be stuck for 10 years like we were in our last attempt,” he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell, left, and Councilman Bob Ghosio at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Tara Smith)

In a letter to Town Board members, company vice president Will Fischer touted Summit Ridge Energy’s experience in completing similar projects as an asset. “We believe our partnership with [sustainable investment firm Hannon Armstrong,] familiarity with community solar and experience in the New York market makes us uniquely positioned to transform the Southold landfill into a revenue-producing asset,” his letter states.

Summit Ridge Energy has developed solar arrays at five other capped landfills, four in Massachusetts and one  in Maryland.

Councilwoman Sarah Nappa asked if any proposals from any other companies were reviewed. 

“It’s the only substantial offer I’ve seen,”Mr. Ghosio said, since the town was freed from a binding lease it entered into with SunEdison nearly a decade ago. That project never took off and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

While supportive of the proposal, Supervisor Scott Russell held some hesitation about the payout for ratepayers locally. 

In July, LIPA trustees voted to approve changes to their solar policy that include expanding a pricing system known as Value of Distributed Energy Resources to community solar programs.

Under that system, LIPA pays solar owners less for their power than it currently does, which makes the economic benefit less appealing to developers. 

“The problem is New York State has started to de-emphasize solar and overemphasize wind …They substantially increased [the] payout per kilowatt for wind,” Mr. Russell said. 

Putting financials aside, he said, it’s still a worthwhile project. 

“We’ve got to pursue it, but there’s got to be a clear understanding of where LIPA’s going on the state level,” Mr. Russell said.

After Tuesday’s work session, board members continued a discussion of potential lease terms with town attorneys.