Annapolis Landfill Solar Farm, Do Renewables Have Place?

FractivistsK.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  

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Annapolis is moving forward with a solar farm on a closed landfill. Solar has baggage compared to natural gas, but this may be a more practical approach.

Adaptive reuse projects are a hot trend at the moment. Everyone with a Pinterest account is scouting out and driving up the value of pallets and mason jars to create some rustic topic piece for their home. I am guilty of this too. My wife calls me a hoarder, but you never know when you may need something for a project.

Usually, these projects are just little hobbies – something to pass the time with no immediate value. The biggest excitement comes from finding the resources you may need, so you are always taking a glance at the items by the dumpster; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all.

Annapolis Renewable Energy Park

Former Annapolis landfill and new home for the Annapolis Renewable Energy Park

Bringing the trash to treasure for a pet project is exactly what is happening in Annapolis, Maryland. It is a nifty project and concept but lacks real value. We are building “the nation’s largest solar energy project installed on a closed landfill,” the Mayor says. Sounds more like an obscure category from the deeper ends of Guinness World Records to me, but I do have an open mind. Renewables, balanced with natural gas baseload generation can make economic sense if the subsidies aren’t horrendous (as is too often the case).

The City of Annapolis proposed the Annapolis Renewable Energy Park to be built on a closed landfill. This area will become home to a 16.8-megawatt solar farm. The 20-year lease sold to Annapolis Solar Park LLC, a joint venture owned by New York-based BQ Energy LLC and Italy-based Building Energy Development US LLC. There they will build 54,000 solar panels on about 80 acres of uninhabitable land seven miles from my home. According to the Anne Arundle County’s Budget Officer, John Hammond, this agreement will give the county an estimated $1.76 million over the 20-year lease in energy savings.

Annapolis will receive $10,000 in rent and $15,000 in additional rent per megawatt of capacity with a 2% increase each year. The city is required to purchase 2 megawatts of energy from the park. Republican Mayor Mike Pantelides said the city was going to need to purchase the energy anyway, so why not?

I am apathetic about the project as a whole. From the surface, it appears as if this solar park will be largely privatized and will not rely on too many subsidies – though they hope to be taking advantage of the 30% federal tax credit. Still, I have a hard time seeing how this project makes real economic sense in the real world.  The facility will reportedly generate 21.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, but is this a capacity figure or actual projected generation. We’re not told and the truth is that solar has a very low generation to capacity ratio (the capacity factor) and tends to produce a lot of the energy when it’s not needed or vice-versa. This is why subsidies in the form of tax credits are required, of course; because solar energy, unlike energy from a combined cycle natural gas plant, is not dispatchable.

Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides

Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides

The mayor recently used this project as a case study for a recent op-ed on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Discussing how he would not have withdrawn, Pantelides said the City of Annapolis is leading the way to green. The landfill solar farm provides an example he said and, of course, from a politician’s standpoint, it is surely a feel-good one and perhaps even a sensible one in that the vacant landfill space is being practically re-used.

Notwithstanding this, the state could have helped the environment and the economy a whole lot more by simply allowing natural gas development, which requires no subsidies. With that being said, I do believe there is a role for renewables in our energy generation markets – regardless if this particular project is of value or not. I am critical about solar projects; they are all too often artificially propped up and tend to cost way more than they can produce. I am certain there is more to this lease than meets the eye, but the Annapolis Renewable Energy Park is at least going in the right direction.

Why not reuse or upcycle a landfill that can’t be used for anything else? If nothing else, the withdrawal from the climate agreement is doing what should have been the case from the beginning – empowering states and municipalities to act on their own. Maybe the rustic idea of state’s rights can be captured in a hobby project and tell a good story somewhere other than Pinterest.

The post Annapolis Landfill Solar Farm, Do Renewables Have Place? appeared first on Natural Gas Now.

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