The largest solar farm to be built on a New Jersey garbage dump is one step closer to approval. As part of the project, which is located on the edge of the Pinelands, the developer will help fund a study of other landfills that threaten the Pinelands' ample groundwater.
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission earlier this month agreed to amend an existing agreement with Stafford Township and Ocean County, pushing ahead the plans of the developer -- the Walters Group of Barnegat Township -- to install solar panels on a 30-acre portion of a landfill in the Stafford Business Park.
The $30 million project, one of the largest solar farms to be proposed in the state, fits neatly into the Christie administration’s plans to convert dumps into solar facilities. It also meshes well with efforts by some conservationists, who would rather see the state target brownfields for big solar projects instead of farmland.
The approval by the Pinelands Commission followed earlier approvals from the Stafford Township Planning Board and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The final state approval needs to come from the State House Commission, which is expected to take up the issue soon.
The developer hopes to begin construction on the solar facility this calendar year, according to Joseph DelDuca, general counsel and partner of the Walters Group.
The approvals from the DEP and commission are necessary because under a 2006 memorandum of agreement, a portion of the old landfill was designated as deed-restricted open space. That agreement paved the way for Walters Group to redevelop the business park as a way of paying for the environmentally safe closure of landfills on site, which had been polluting groundwater supplies.
The Walters Group completed landfill remediation and closure activities last year and is currently working on residential and commercial development of the property.
"This model green energy project will create jobs and clean energy, and is consistent with Governor Christie's commitment to developing more solar projects on landfills," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. "At the end of the day, this will be a great project for the state. We certainly want to see it move forward."
Previously, smaller solar systems have been installed on old dumps in Pennsauken and Paulsboro, according to officials at the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU). They believe that this is the largest solar farm yet to be constructed on a landfill.
The Walters Group projects that it can provide 70 percent of the project's electricity through renewable energy. It has already installed solar panels on stores that have been constructed, meeting about 30 percent of their energy needs. It also is looking to build more than 1,000 solar panels on the landfill site.
The Stafford Business Park is situated on a 363-acre site just south of Route 72, and located within a Pinelands-designated Regional Growth Area, land-use areas in which intensive residential and business development is authorized.
As part of the amended agreement, the developer will contribute $152,900 to finance a study of approximately 40 landfills in the Pinelands that remain unclosed despite requirements.
“Information from this study will be used to help facilitate the closure of these landfills, which will have far-ranging, long-term benefits for the Pinelands environment," said John Stokes, the Pinelands Commission's executive director.
While some commission members thought the developers contribution ought to be set aside to preserve more open space in the region, a majority of the members argued the benefits of identifying problem landfills that are having the biggest impact on groundwater supplies is much more critical at this time.
“This has been waiting to happen for some time," said Candace Ashmun, who has served on the commission since its inception. “There are more results in protecting the resources of the Pinelands.’’