Solar Farm Takes Root on Former Worcester Landfill

Published in Telegram & Gazette

Solar Farm Takes Root on Former Worcester Landfill

If not for vents sticking out of the ground in random places on the big long hill off Greenwood Street, it would be hard to tell you were standing atop the city’s long-dormant – and capped – landfill.

There’s a great view of the surrounding hills that give way to the Blackstone Valley; on a mound near the base of the 25-acre mesa of garbage, wild turkeys nibbled in the grass. The sun hid behind dark gray clouds as bitterly cold winds swept up and over thousands of little rectangles that officials say will save the city millions in annual electricity costs.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. and other officials toured the site Tuesday at what is expected to be the largest municipally owned landfill solar array in the state.

When finished, the solar farm will use 28,600 solar panels on 1,430 racks sited across the top of the landfill by global positioning satellites to convert the sun into electricity. The installation is about 60 percent complete. The city manager said the project is another way Worcester is being innovative about converting to green energy and at the same time saving money.

John W. Odell, the city’s director of energy and asset management, said the electricity generated from the project – an estimated 10 million kilowatt hours annually – will be fed to National Grid. That contribution will offset roughly $2 million in annual electricity costs for the city, which translates to around 20 percent of the city’s municipal electricity budget. Though the electricity won’t remain in the city for its usage, the 10 million kilowatt hours is enough to power the equivalent of 900 homes.

The solar array is an impressive-looking setup, sort of like a solar apple orchard. Neatly arranged rows of the gleaming panels seemingly go on forever; they’re all tilted at a 25 degree angle, and they all face south. A long, winding road brings workers to the top of the capped landfill, which served as the city’s dump from 1973 through 1985. The system is being designed, permitted and constructed by Borrego Solar Systems Inc., which is headquartered in San Diego and also has an office in Boston.

The total project cost is around $27 million; with renewable energy credits and costs savings, city officials expect the project to recoup its expenses within 10 years. Mr. Odell said the solar farm is another part of a multiphase push that includes heating/ventilation/air conditioning improvements at several city buildings and the installation of solar arrays at several school locations.

Another component of the city’s push to take advantage of cutting-edge energy management is the less glamorous retrofitting of the city’s streetlights and parking garages with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

The city is about halfway through installing the lights in the city’s approximately 14,000 street lights. Lights installed in the city’s parking garages have motion-detecting sensors that turn them on only when a car pulls in or a person walks by. The new system is also networked, so individual streetlights can be controlled, even dimmed, according to various situations. It also includes a notification system that alerts the city when a light is malfunctioning, or needs to be replaced. The lights use less energy and could help the city realize up to $700,000 in annual savings.

The lighting system can be expanded upon and upgraded to perform other functions. Mr. Augustus mentioned that it might be useful in places like Water Street in the Canal District, where there have been complaints recently about disorderly activity after the bars get out.

Timing the lights so they shine nice and bright as the bars get out could deter such behavior, he said. Mr. Odell noted that studies suggest when Los Angeles installed LEDs in its streetlights, it had an impact on crime. Like the solar program, the lighting installation is being financed in part with $3 million in incentives and rebates.