SOLAR POWER

Meadowlands Commission wants to harness sun over N.J. landfill

LYNDHURST, N.J. -- New Jersey hopes to soon deliver what could arguably be called the world's greenest trash heap.

Yesterday, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, a quasi-governmental body set up 40 years ago by the state to clean up several dumps that destroyed one of the United States' most famous swamps, called on companies to submit proposals for building a solar power plant on a giant landfill in Kearny, close to Newark and just minutes from Manhattan.

The commission aims to lease space on the south slope of the 35-acre Kearny landfill to lay photovoltaic panels. They estimate that there is enough usable acreage there for a 5-megawatt system.

The company winning the bid for the project could generate funds by selling the power into the grid, with customers for the power all but guaranteed in the densely populated area. Firms could also tap into the state's lucrative solar power renewable energy certificate program, an additional revenue generator that has helped New Jersey become second only to California in installed solar energy capacity.

Developers could also potentially take advantage of federal government incentives for renewable power generation outlined in the recent economic stimulus passage passed by Congress, commission officials pointed out.

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"Given the current level of state and federal support for clean energy initiatives, this solar landfill project is an extraordinary business opportunity that also benefits the environment," said the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission executive director, Robert Ceberio, in a press release.

If successfully completed, the project would help the commission fulfill 25 percent of its self-imposed goal for renewable power generation in the Meadowlands District under its control, a 30-square-mile area surrounding the Hackensack River watershed that is home to wetlands, waterfowl, freeways and factories alike. The commission hopes to build 20 megawatts' worth of alternative energy capacity in the Meadowlands region by 2020.

NJMC public information officer Brian Aberback said the commission has already received a strong response from yesterday's notice and is looking to expand the initiative.

"NJMC is evaluating all of its landfills for the possibility of hosting solar panels," Aberback said. The landfill in Kearny has settled substantially since large-scale dumping ceased there 25 years ago, making it ideally suited for the first project, he said.

The move toward a solar-powered landfill is one of the more ambitious environmental initiatives the commission has launched.

Since the late 1980s, NJMC has been capturing methane gas from some of its landfills, using it to help meet part of its own power needs and selling the rest to a local utility. The commission is also working with some of the 14 municipalities in its jurisdiction to help them affix rooftop solar installations on public buildings.

This article was updated at 2:55 p.m. May 28.

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