COVENTRY — Town councilors in Coventry heard an update this week on a plan to top the former landfill on Arnold Road with a solar installation — a project that over the next two and a half decades could generate some $2.5 million in lease revenue.
“To turn [the capped landfill] into the ultimate green energy producer, I think, is just going full circle on that property,” Coventry Administrative Officer Ed Warzycha, who worked for years on this project as Coventry’s interim town manager, said during the council meeting earlier this week. “I feel this is a win-win for all of us.”
The Coventry Town Council heard Monday from a consultant who’s been working with the town on bringing the project to fruition.
While solar power is a good source of clean, renewable energy, finding an ideal location to install a solar array can be tough, Dan Joyce, president of Balanced Rock Energy, told councilors.
The former landfill, Joyce added, is a “terrific” site.
“Ideally people want to locate solar projects on brown fields, or dormant land, or land that’s not going to be useful for any other meaningful purpose,” Joyce said. “You have a terrific opportunity to take a capped landfill, invite a solar developer to cover it with panels, and the town will get a lease payment from the developer.”
Joyce recommended to the Town Council that the town sign a 25-year agreement to lease the landfill site to Watershed Solar Development.
For decades, the 10-acre property where the solar farm is being proposed for installation was used as a dumping ground for household and commercial waste. It was unofficially closed in the 1970s, and in 2003 was targeted for proper closure by the state Department of Environmental Management.
Watershed Solar Development is a partnership between ISM Solar Development and Watershed Geo, which developed the geosynthetic turf closure system that now covers Coventry’s landfill. Watershed Solar is the only developer authorized to install atop it, and using any other developer would void the warranty.
“You’re in a situation where you have an opportunity to develop solar, but there’s really just one developer that you can work with,” Joyce said.
In fact, Watershed Solar Development was included in the process of designing the Arnold Road landfill cap to ensure it would accommodate a solar installation, Greg Lucini, CEO of Watershed Solar Development, said Monday.
“We’ve been working together with Watershed Geo to develop systems and technology which is unique to us and unique to our product to allow us to build solar on these closure turf caps,” Lucini said, inviting councilors to check out a 3.5-megawatt system his company recently installed over a landfill in Cranston.
In leasing the property, Watershed Solar Development would take on paying for and managing the extended warranty on the closure turf, added Russ Maymon, director of business development at Watershed Solar Development.
“It will give you peace of mind that the landfill is going to be taken care of during the entire life of the solar lease,” Maymon said.
Typically, Joyce said, Balanced Rock Energy would invite proposals from all available solar developers. In this case, however, going through a bidding process would be tricky because of the situation with the warranty.
The firm instead has been working with the town to negotiate an agreement with Watershed Solar on a lease amount.
“This was a little bit different,” Joyce said, “but I feel confident with the result.”
Lease payments usually range between $15,000 and $20,000 per megawatt per year, he said — the project in Coventry is expected to generate about 5 megawatts of electricity.
“The size may change when we get to final construction,” Maymon said, “but for right now, we’re fairly confident it’ll be right around 5 megawatts.”
Watershed Solar initially offered around $15,000, Joyce said. He did then reach out to other developers, he said, but as expected, they were uninterested.
“We evaluated our options, and the decision was made to go back to Watershed Solar and ask them for a best and final offer,” Joyce said. “The quickest route, and the cleanest route, and the safest route for everybody involved from a warranty standpoint is to work with Watershed Solar.”
Watershed Solar improved its offer to $18,000 annually per megawatt — around $90,000 per year all together — with a 1 percent annual escalator.
“That’s an amount of money that I think is very fair,” Joyce said of the offer, which would earn the town around $2.5 million over the life of the agreement. “If I were in your position that’s something I would feel good about approving.”
Warzycha said that he, too, is satisfied with that offer.
Councilor James LeBlanc and Council Vice President Jennifer Ludwig both said they’d like the 1 percent annual escalator to be negotiated — the escalator isn’t tied to electricity prices, Maymon pointed out.
Warzycha said he hopes to bring the finalized lease agreement before the Town Council for a vote in two weeks. But before the council makes its decision regarding the lease, LeBlanc said he’d like to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and voice any concerns they might have.
“Because of our past experience with green energy, I just feel like we should be extremely precautionary,” LeBlanc said, “and maybe send out a notice to Arnold Road residents [and the surrounding] businesses.”
Warzycha said he’d organize an informational meeting for next weekend.
Watershed Solar Development will still need to come before the town for the necessary permitting.