By Jay Landers

A former New Jersey landfill that later became one of the first Superfund sites in the nation is set to become a solar park. Following years of planning and permitting, construction will begin this month on the 4.5 MW direct current solar park in Gloucester Township. In addition to generating renewable energy, the long-planned project will contribute to Gloucester Township’s efforts to become more sustainable.

Polluted past

Because the landfill was last operated by Gloucester Environmental Management Services Inc., the site is known as the GEMS Landfill. Beginning in 1969, the landfill accepted municipal and industrial wastes, according to a summary of the site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 1980, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection closed the facility because it was releasing elevated levels of volatile organic compounds into groundwater and surface water in the area.

In 1983, the EPA added the site to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List. Major cleanup actions conducted at the site included capping the landfill, extracting and treating polluted groundwater, and installing a gas collection and treatment system. In July 2015, the New Jersey DEP assumed responsibility for the ongoing operations and maintenance at the site.

Private partner

Occupying 19 acres at the GEMS Landfill site, the solar array will consist of 11,430 solar panels and the associated racking and inverters, says Annie Jung, the project developer for Syncarpha Capital LLC, a private equity firm that develops, owns, and operates solar energy systems in the United States and Canada. Syncarpha will pay the entire cost to design and construct the $8.5 million project, Jung says. “There will be no cost to Gloucester Township,” she notes.

The project will incorporate solar panels having three different output capacities: 8,658 400 W modules, 2,214 375 W modules, and 558 370 W modules, Jung says.

Annually, the solar park is expected to produce nearly 6.1 million kWh of “clean zero emissions power,” enough to offset 4,313 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to an Oct. 27 news release from Gloucester Township. Over the course of 25 years, the facility will yield approximately $1 million in lease revenue to Gloucester Township, the release states.

Complicating factors

Adding a solar array to a former landfill that is also a Superfund site presented myriad challenges during the development phase of the project, says Ben Parvey, CEO of Blue Sky Power, a clean energy development company that serves as an energy consultant to Gloucester Township. In 2009, Blue Sky Power began working with the township to develop a clean energy master plan, which identifies multiple possible locations for installing clean energy projects. To date, Gloucester Township has developed about 9 MW of clean energy capacity at 14 municipal sites, Parvey says.

Approximately nine years in development, the GEMS Solar Park project encountered its share of regulatory and procedural hurdles, Parvey says. “Being both a Superfund site and a landfill adds a layer of complexity,” he says. “The design of the system, as well as the permitting and regulatory compliance, is far more complex than using a greenfield or even perhaps a less contaminated brownfield (site).”

The 2015 takeover of operations and management duties at the site by the New Jersey DEP also delayed and complicated the project, as that occurred while Gloucester Township was in the process of seeking bids for the project, Parvey says. Ultimately, Gloucester Township selected Syncarpha to redevelop the GEMS Landfill site in 2016.

Mind the cap

During design, the project team took pains to ensure that nothing would compromise the integrity of the underlying cap on the landfill. “We needed to design the system to be completely above grade since we cannot excavate and disturb the landfill cap,” Jung says.

“We couldn’t use screws or pile-driven posts,” Jung says. “We designed the arrays to have ballasted foundations. We also had to put (alternating current) cables on cable trays instead of burying or trenching them.” Meanwhile, the design also had to maintain a 10 ft setback from the existing monitoring wells at the site.

Although landfills and Superfund sites present certain complications, they can make excellent locations for solar power installations, Jung says. Once they have undergone the appropriate remediation and closure activities, the sites are “stable and unusually suitable for repurposing development that entails no excavation and minimal soil disturbance,” she says. “Our ballast-mounted solar modules are uniquely compatible with this type of site condition.”

A gold standard

Upon completion, the GEMS Solar Park will help Gloucester Township achieve its goal of earning a Gold Star Standard in Energy from Sustainable Jersey, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability among New Jersey communities. To earn this standard, a municipality must take certain steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its facilities and operations and decrease energy consumption among the broader community.

The Gold Star Standard in Energy would burnish Gloucester Township’s existing sustainability credentials. The township already has achieved the highest level of sustainability certification, a separate program, from Sustainable Jersey.     

The GEMS Solar Park is “another case of the township’s dedication to sustainability,” Parvey says. In fact, he notes that the project is the second solar array in Gloucester Township to be constructed on a former landfill.

Construction of the solar array is scheduled to conclude in spring 2022. Pure Power Engineering Inc., provided electrical design services for the project. Wood Engineering provided civil engineering design services. CS Energy is the general contractor. Upon completion, the solar array will connect to the distribution grid operated by the Atlantic City Electric Co.