Wednesday, October 5, 2011

stimulus funds go to solar garbage mountain

A closed landfill isn’t likely to be top of mind when it comes to solar energy initiatives.

But the Hickory Ridge landfill, which stopped accepting garbage three years ago, is getting a $5 million investment that will transform the 48-acre DeKalb County site into a solar energy farm expected to generate enough electricity to power 224 homes.

The project, announced Tuesday in a ribbon cutting ceremony, creates what state officials call one of Georgia’s largest solar projects and puts the Peach State at the forefront of green technology.

The electricty generated would be sold to utility companies such as Georgia Power Co.

Visible from planes flying overhead in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the project is the world’s largest landfill solar energy cap, officials said.

“I’m confident this will be the standard not only for Georgia, but also for the nation,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said.

The landfill, which is operated by Republic Services Inc., in the DeKalb County hamlet of Conley, began winding down waste collection in 2008, said Tony Walker, a Republic engineering manager.

The landfill was at capacity, so rather than let it stand as a closed facility, the company sought ways to reuse the site in some way.

The result: A partnership with Carlisle Energy Services, developer of a flexible, solar cover that stretches 45 acres. It includes roughly 7,000 solar panels that alone are 10 acres.

The green, tarp-like material is similar to what’s used in roof building materials and is designed to withstand temperature extremes, Walker said.

It has an expected lifetime of 25 years.

With the landfill closed to new deposits of garbage, Republic Services is required by law to monitor the facility for 30 years.

Walker said the solar tarp-like membrane will cut those maintenance costs because it will keep rainwater out, gases that form from the decomposing wastes in and produces energy that could be used to power some onsite operations.

Though the project cost about $5 million, about $2 million of that came through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, via federal stimulus funds.

GEFA, which funds energy projects throughout the state and maintains Georgia-owned fuel storage tanks, received $82.5 million in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“It’s exciting to see the concepts of conservation and effective resource management be put into action by this project,” said Mark Williams, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

He said he hoped the project would serve as an example to “the rest of the nation of what Georgia is doing to be good stewards of our natural resources.”

Solar projects have been key topics of discussion since the collapse of Solyndra Corp. a start-up solar energy panel manufacturer that was highly touted as an example of President Barack Obama’s renewable energy program.

But the company, which received $528 million in federal loan guarantees, is now in bankruptcy court.

Georgia officials were quick to note there are major differences between the two projects.

For, one, Republic Services, which was founded in 1989, ranks 296 on the Fortune 500 list of biggest U.S. companies and has assets of $19.4 billion.

“We did our research, we looked at the financials, looked at how strong the companies were and the value of the project to determine that this would be a great project for stimulus funds,” Kevin Clark GEFA’s executive director, told East Atlanta Patch.

GEMA only paid for its portion of the work as the project progressed and only when it met department satisfaction, he said.

Another key difference is the money given was a grant, not a loan guarantee, Clark said.

Still, the department saw little risk in funding the project.

“This, to us, was not a risky proposition at all” Clark said. “There was very little risk of anything going south or defaulting, given the nature of the two companies.”

If this works out, great. But something tells me there will an 'unintended consequence' in the works. If the tarp catches fire, look out Conley Georgia and SE ATL!


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