The conversion of a former landfill site into a solar farm is the largest project of its kind in Ohio
By Julia Edinger
Photos courtesy of Enerlogics Solar
After having seen the wide, open plains of the Midwest, it is difficult to believe that this region has not fully capitalized on the potential value of this space as an opportunity for creating energy. A county in Ohio sought to change that, to electrify its region, and to build a foundation towards a more secure grid — all while creating jobs.
Not only was this project able to create jobs, but it was able to benefit the local economy in more ways than one. Using workers from Ohio for the construction, paired with Ohio based manufacturers, the project has a uniquely community-driven feel.
“The project utilized an Ohio-centric team to ensure local and regional impact,” explained Scott Ameduri, President of Enerlogics Solar LLC.
The former landfill has now become one of Ohio’s crowning energy achievements, both benefiting from and creating benefits for Ohio communities. With Enerlogics’ base in Youngstown, racking and foundations from Cincinnati-based RBI Solar, and photovoltaic modules from First Solar’s Toledo facility, the project is Ohio-made from the ground up. This team came together with a vision to overcome all of the red tape involved with developing on a former landfill in order to build something that will improve Ohio.
“Brooklyn had the land, Cleveland Public Power had the distribution system, we had the electricity needs, and Enerlogics had the development design and know-how, but it was a first for all of us,” said Mike Foley, Director of Sustainability for Cuyahoga County. “And it is helping reuse land that can’t be used for anything else to be made productive for vitally important clean energy development.”
A Parcel in Plain Sight
The site of the Brooklyn Landfill acted as the perfect place for this project to begin. In the fall of 2015, Enerlogics Solar partnered with Cuyahoga County to create a transformative project for the region. The brownfield site was a perfect canvas to begin from. By September 2018, nobody would be able to guess that this spectacle was once a landfill.
“From a constructability perspective, the Brooklyn landfill was an ideal brownfield site,” explained Scott Ameduri, President of Enerlogics Solar LLC. “As one of the first landfill solar projects in the state, our design utilized a ballasted racking system to preserve cap integrity, as well as other means to reduce any perceived risks to the landfill itself.”
The site provided a solid foundation, but it came with its own challenges, mostly in the structuring of the project. The construction process was straightforward, according to Foley, with one major guideline: “Don’t break the cap of the landfill.” Extending Cleveland Public Power lines to the site was the greatest construction challenge, but collaborative efforts helped make that possible.
While the construction process was relatively simple, the regulatory restrictions and economic viability posed a greater challenge in the creation of this project.
“The project was funded via County electrical payments,” explained Foley. But were key details that influenced the project’s structuring. “We partially pre-paid dollars for energy usage in the amount of $4 million, but also have monthly payments when certain thresholds of electricity are created. IGS Solar was the overall developer and put money into the deal.”
There was a complicated structure in the entities involved in the project’s development, as well. Some of the key players included Mayor Gallagher of the City of Brooklyn, Executive Armond Budish, and County Council President Dan Brady. According to Foley, there were many moving parts throughout the process.
“It was complicated, but we all worked hard to make it happen,” Foley stated. “To be honest, projects like this shouldn’t be so hard, but we think we have a great project that people can now point to as an example, and we hope to use this to replicate the model in other locations.”
Distinction in the Details
The solar farm makes use of 17 acres of the 75-acre landfill site. The array was carefully designed in order to preserve as much of the lush woods surrounding the site while repurposing a significant portion of the brownfield site.
The finished project is made up of an impressive array of 35,520 solar panels. The amount of energy that the site is producing is equivalent to having enough power for 500 residential homes. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it is equivalent to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of 834 passenger vehicles.
“As part of our design process, our legal partner (McDonald Hopkins) and our construction partner (Conti Solar) worked with Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s environmental advisors to ensure that the construction methodology would preserve landfill cap integrity — including that of the gas collection system,” explained Ameduri. “Through utilization of lighter, tracked equipment, the project was able to minimize the impact on the cap during the construction process.”
When constructing a project on a site like this, the delicate nature of the cap has to be kept in mind throughout the designing and building process. It is a crucial factor in ensuring that both the environment and the surrounding community are protected from the harmful toxins that could escape if the cap was broken.
Power to the People
This project has accomplished more than the revitalization of a brownfield site. It is bringing power back to the community of Cuyahoga County.
“The project is providing local-generated renewable energy under a power purchase agreement with Cuyahoga County to offset some of the consumption of County facilities,” Ameduri said. “This structure provides the County with long-term electricity cost savings.”
Additionally, repurposing this space provided relief, as the land was previously a burden for the community. The City of Brooklyn had to pay to maintain the property, but now, the land is being leased, so Brooklyn is actually making money from it.
“The County over a 25-year period estimates that it will save approximately $3 million dollars in energy payments that it otherwise would have made under business-as-usual conditions,” stated Foley.
The reaction to this project has been quite positive, in part due to community involvement throughout the planning. There are tours at the site with schools in the area on occasion, continually energizing the community involvement in the project. These types of tours can also spark an interest in sustainable careers for young students trying to see what they can do in the solar industry. Notably, there has been national recognition for this project. In 2018, the project received an award for Solar Project of the Year from Solar Builder Magazine.
The short-term benefits of this project, such as job creation through the construction of the project, have certainly impacted the local economy. The long-term benefits of this project, though, will transform the region.
Julia Edinger is the Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.