January 21, 2015

Better Economy Revives Solar Energy Proposal For River Road Landfill

A solar energy project that was stalled due to a shaky economy and a decline in solar renewable energy values may be back on the books. At the Princeton Council meeting on January 12, Joseph Santaiti of Gabel Associates, a Highland Park energy, environmental, and public utility consulting firm, told Council members that a healthier economy has made the project to put a solar array at a former landfill on River Road financially feasible.

It was in 2011 that the former Borough and Township created proposals for a purchasing agreement that would allow the town to lease an eight-to-ten-acre section of the landfill to a solar developer. But the idea was put on hold when the economy tanked and solar energy value “plummeted dramatically,” Mr. Gabel said.

As a result of legislation in July 2012, the market has stabilized and installation costs are now lower, he said, adding that federal subsidies which the town could take advantage of are still on the market.

Mr. Santaiti said landfill sites such as Princeton’s cannot be used for any other purposes. Solar energy projects are ideal, “giving them a function above and beyond,” he said. “It’s something we feel comfortable with. And we have to feel pretty comfortable in the market in order for us to re-engage.”

The Gabel firm would use the Cornerstone Environmental Group, which was part of the original project team, as subcontractor. The solar developer would finance, build, own, and operate the facility. Gabel would issue requests for proposals from potential developers, and the Stony Brook Regional Sewage Authority would enter into a separate agreement to buy the power. Princeton would benefit from land lease payments for hosting the facility.

The system would be sited on a portion of the landfill that is closed. The project could involve cutting down some trees to allow in more sunlight and increase returns for Princeton, Mr. Santaiti said.

Mayor Liz Lempert told Mr. Santaiti that Council is interested in the proposed project. Council president Bernie Miller thanked the company “for sticking with us,” he said. “It’s been a long road to get to this point.”

Resolutions will be prepared, along with documents required for the agreement to proceed. The law firm of Decotiis, Fitzpatrick, and Cole, which has expertise in environmental law and renewable energy matters, would be retained as part of the agreement.

“We look forward to the next discussion,” Ms. Lempert told Mr. Santaiti.