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May 19, 2009 6:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Re-powering the landfill

May 19, 2009 6:11 PM

One year ago, the thought of a vast 40-acre solar array that would help to run a methane gas plant at the capped East Hampton Town landfill on Springs-Fireplace Road, tie into the Long Island Power Authority’s energy grid and produce enough power to feed 3,500 homes would have been a pie-in-the-sky idea.

Last week, though, the East Hampton Town Board agreed to draft a letter allowing Erwin Bogner, the president of the New Jersey firm New Age Energy, to begin a feasibility study of a $60 million project—built entirely with private backing—that could be under construction before the end of the year.

Mr. Bogner said that a group of investors calling themselves the Cyra Energy Fund is willing to commit $300 million to building solar arrays atop the landfills in each of the five East End towns. He said that a group of investors from East Hampton had expressed particular interest in placing the arrays here—both in Springs and at the Montauk landfill.

“They’re not notable. They just have a lot of money,” he said of the investors.

Mr. Bogner estimated that after installation the arrays will be profitable within five years and will last between 25 and 30 years, after which they can be upgraded.

“We harvest something that we can get for free,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the stock market goes up or down. This is like a triple A rated bond that goes up 10 percent every year.”

Mr. Bogner added that the town could also receive a financial bonus from the project in several ways—either by leasing the landfill land to his company, through a 20-percent reduction in its own electricity bills, or by selling the power to 3,500 residents, chosen through a lottery, and pocketing a portion or all of the 20-percent difference between LIPA’s rates and the cost of energy produced by the solar array.

Mr. Bogner said that the project will require a three-month initial study, after which his group plans to install a one megawatt system on one of the East End landfills for a three-month test run.

“If we’re happy with the returns, we’re looking to go ahead,” he said.

In a presentation to the Town Board on May 12, Mr. Bogner said that his project has been made possible by the commercial availability of special mirrors that until recently were used only by NASA engineers. They are arranged in an array that can be moved along with the movement of the sun. He said that the chips he plans to install are between 35 and 39-percent efficient, while chips that NASA is currently using are more than 56-percent efficient. He hopes to be able to install even more efficient chips when the arrays are upgraded.

Each unit within the solar array has a 25-foot-high solar energy receiver that concentrates the energy produced by the array, which some Town Board members thought could pose aesthetic problems.

The full-scale array would not only produce 10 megawatts of electricity at the Springs-Fireplace landfill, but it would also generate 15 megawatts of thermal energy that can be used to power a steam micro turbine that will generate 4 megawatts of electricity. Mr. Bogner said that if the town would like to recapture some of the methane produced by the landfill, it could generate even more energy to power the turbine.

Town Supervisor Bill McGintee was skeptical of the methane portion of the plan. He told Mr. Bogner that the landfill was initially capped because of a groundwater plume caused by rainwater seeping through the toxic substances in the landfill.

“Will the introduction of heat and air break down items that we don’t want to break down?” he asked.

Mr. Bogner said that the State Department of Environmental Conservation will need to monitor the project to ensure that it does not damage the environment or public health.

Town Board members said they were worried about the reliability of the power produced by the array. Mr. Bogner said that Eastern Long Island gets more sunlight than Florida, touted the 10-megawatt storage capacity of the project, and reminded the board that the whole project will still be tied into the LIPA grid.

The biggest sticking point in the deal is whether LIPA will allow such a big grid tie-in.

Mr. Bogner said that he hasn’t yet begun negotiations with LIPA because he wanted to have the backing of all of the towns before talking to the power authority. He said that he didn’t think that anyone had ever pitched a plan like his to LIPA before.

“Somebody has to take the first step,” he said.

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Wow, sounds like a great idea!
By Beth Young (7), Sag Harbor on Dec 16, 09 10:12 PM
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