Two shuttered landfills may soon have brighter future

Two shuttered landfills may soon have brighter future

URBANA — Defunct landfills leaching chemicals have never been prime real estate for development. But Illinois' new Future Energy Jobs Act may soon change that across the state, including in Urbana.

Packed with incentives for solar and wind projects, the legislation passed last year has developers targeting the wide-open acres atop old landfills for potential solar-array projects.

Developers are interested in Urbana's old landfill and one in Danville, too. Both, closed for decades, have required environmental remediation — at the cities' expense — to indefinitely stop the leaching of chemicals.

"It's turning a liability into an asset," said Scott Tess, the city of Urbana's environmental sustainability manager.

Anticipating the opportunity for solar incentives, that city conducted a qualifications-based search last year for a solar developer to partner with on a 2-megawatt solar array on the roughly 20 acres viable for such a project at the old landfill in northeast Urbana, according to Tess.

After multiple developers expressed interest, the city selected California-based SunPower.

Now, it's a waiting game as the Illinois Power Authority finalizes the rules of the state's Future Energy Jobs Act, including solar incentives.

It should all be finished by March, and Tess said the goal is to have Urbana's project ready to go as soon as that happens. How it would connect to the energy grid depends on various factors, but the Urbana landfill is within a mile-and-a-half of two electric substations, which helps.

"We want to make sure we are at the front of the line," Tess said of having this project ready to go. He said he believes the incentives will go fast, because there's significant interest in solar in Illinois.

The developer would lease the landfill space from the city, Tess said, for maybe 25 or 30 years at a minimal price. So the initiative would generate some revenue, Tess said, while at the same time increasing renewable energy generated within Urbana. That matches up with the city's climate action plan and pollution reduction commitments.

Similar lease arrangements for solar projects on government-owned land, as well as private and commercial properties, are being pursued by various developers throughout Illinois as a result of FEJA, which requires the installation of 2,700 megawatts of solar in Illinois by 2030.

About 40 percent will come from utility-scale projects over 2 megawatts. Another 50 percent will be from distributed and community solar projects, and yet another 2 percent from brownfield sites.

In Danville, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said developers have reached out about a project on the city-owned former H&L Landfill, south of Danville. But until the state determines exactly how solar would work on the landfill site, Danville isn't to a point of negotiating a deal, he said.

In Rantoul, the city already has one solar array on municipal property — in an 8-acre field south of Heritage Lake, on the extreme southeastern portion of the former Chanute Air Force Base. The 1-megawatt solar array, which can power about 145 homes and is expected to produce about 1.6-million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, is a demonstration project for the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency, from which the village of Rantoul buys its power.

The IMEA supplies wholesale electric power to one rural electric cooperative and 32 municipal systems in Illinois, including Rantoul, and has other solar projects in the state.

Village Administrator Rick Snider said the possibility of a solar array elsewhere on the former base — specifically, closed landfill space — has been discussed but nothing further.

"The problem is you can't really do anything that disturbs the soil on the caps," he said, adding that there are fixtures that can possibly solve that issue. "There are not a lot of other uses for that property."

Motivated by state incentives, solar developers are also pursuing non-landfill tracts of land for projects across the state.

In the Danville area, negotiations for solar project sites are currently ongoing with private landowners.

In November, Chicago-based Trajectory Energy held a meeting at the IBEW office in Danville for property owners interested in leasing land for solar projects. Trajectory has held similar meetings at IBEW locations around the state.

The company's John Carson said Trajectory is excited about its partnership with IBEW.

"We are working on bringing a number of potential projects to the (Danville) area," he said, but declined to comment on details of potential projects in Danville, citing ongoing discussions with landowners.

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