Solar Facility Siting Case Study: Panorama Landfill in Prince George’s County

​Solar on Landfill Projects

Solar Facility Siting Case Study

Developer: SynerGen Solar (SynerGen)

Jurisdiction: Prince George’s County

Project Site: 2301 Tucker Road, Fort Washington, MD 20744

Type: Community solar by developer; brownfield (reclaimed Class 3 landfill in the Residential Estate Zone); 6.6 megawatt (MW) power generation total (the 6+ MWs are divided among four smaller, approximately 1.5 MW projects in order to qualify as community solar) serving over 1,000 customers; 89-acre landfill with 25 acres used for the solar project

Zoning Used: Residential Estate Zone

Process: Complete In-House Financial Analysis; Obtain Local and State Approvals; Obtain Grid Connection; Community Involvement; Design, Operation and Maintenance Provisions; Sell Power

Community solar allows people to buy the electric power from a solar installation that they cannot
install on their own buildings. Community solar can generate income—as well as electricity—
for a business or non-profit if the solar panels are installed on their buildings.

Description of Process:

Financial Analysis

As a solar developer, SynerGen conducted their project calculations in-house.

The project is community solar since the solar panels and other infrastructure are not located on the customers' premises, although they are located within the same electric service territory as the customers'. Similar to aggregate net metering projects (in Maryland, aggregate net metering is restricted to municipal, agricultural, and nonprofit entities), customers receive a dollar value credit on their energy bill that is equivalent to the energy generated. The project is currently fully subscribed with over 1,200 customers—the subscriber profile is 100% residential.

SynerGen utilized available renewable energy certificates and federal energy credits, which are accessible to the renewable energy project property owner. These incentives help subsidize the large upfront capital investment and allow SynerGen to sell the electricity to customers at a guaranteed discount.

SynerGen recommends keeping upfront costs lower when possible, keeping interconnection costs low since those can be very expensive, and doing a pre-application with the utility company to help determine interconnection costs before commencing project development.

The energy savings for customers equal the difference between the dollar value credit received on their utility electric bill (equivalent to the full retail value of the electricity generated) and the price paid to SynerGen. SynerGen outsourced the customer acquisition and maintenance work to a third party, and the third party included a guaranteed 10% savings on the customers’ bills.

SynerGen noted that the County could have become a subscriber so long as they did not exceed the subscription limits; however, the County did not opt to subscribe. SynerGen prefers residential customers since those types of customers receive more significant energy cost savings than commercial/government entities could receive; commercial/government utility consumers already receive negotiated/discounted energy rates from the utility company and/or third-party suppliers.

Although the County does not own the project or participate as a subscriber, they do benefit financially from the project in the form of the additional property tax revenue generated by development of the site—the closed landfill was not generating revenue for the County, but the solar array does, and other potential higher revenue operations are not viable for the closed landfill site. In addition, the solar array site development does not pose any additional strain (and associated maintenance costs) on community infrastructure (e.g., water, sewer, roads).

Local Approvals

Since the project was optimally sited on a closed Class III landfill, SynerGen had minimal zoning challenges. They readily obtained approval to develop the property, with its Residential Estate Zoning, as a solar array.

During the siting process, SynerGen observed that the most suitable solar array area on the property was subject to a tree conservation plan and woodland conservation bank; however, there were no trees growing within the conservation area. Therefore, SynerGen offered to abundantly plant other portions of the property that were unsuitable for solar array installation in exchange for moving the tree conservation plan/bank to those areas so they could develop the suitable portion. They were able to move the easement and they planted approximately 20,000 tree seedlings over approximately 20 acres of the property.

The project was required to go through the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Mandatory Referral Process, and both the developer and the Commission report that there were no major issues.

SynerGen also worked with the Prince George’s County Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement’s (DPIE) Site Road Plan Review Division, participating in biweekly meetings with the division to ensure that the project progressed efficiently. Solar projects are required to be operational within 12–18 months of approval, so meeting the deadline was critical toward ensuring that investors’ funding wasn’t wasted.

The developer also worked with the local fire marshal later in the project timeline during the Building Department permitting, and obtained a waiver letter.

State Approvals

MDE approval was not required because the landfill was privately owned and limited to non-hazardous debris.

Obtain Grid Connection

SynerGen started coordinating with the power company (PEPCO) early on in the process (i.e., before the project was accepted into the program) to complete their interconnection application. PEPCO sent them the interconnection cost estimate early on. The developer went through the Level 2 interconnection process (since each array was less than two MWs), which is a much faster process than the Level 4. The developer’s cost for connection to the grid is confidential; however, they indicated that the cost was in the hundreds of thousands. SynerGen continued to work with PEPCO throughout the process to meet permitting requirements, etc.

Community Involvement

A residential community neighbors the Panorama solar project, so a public meeting was held to discuss residents’ concerns about views and trespassing/loitering. The residents who initially had concerns became proponents of the project after negotiating tree plantings on some of the neighboring residential lots. Some of the neighbors now serve as monitors for trespassing on the Panorama property, and SynerGen pays them for the service.

Design, Operation and Maintenance Provisions

The only unique design, operation and maintenance provisions required for the Panorama solar project were the installation of flexible racking to accommodate any potential settlement from being located on a landfill.

Sell Power

SynerGen outsourced the customer acquisition and maintenance work to a third party, and the third party included a guaranteed 10% savings on the customers’ bills. The project is currently fully subscribed with over 1,200 customers—the subscriber profile is 100% residential.

Best Practices for Jurisdictions as Identified by the Developer:

  • Be reasonable and institute a straightforward process whereby developers can gain approval for solar and other renewable energy projects on brownfields. For example, if a landfill property is zoned residential (but is unsuitable for residential development), enable solar development.
  • Institute a mechanism for solar to be a permitted use for landfill properties and other brownfield sites with limited reuse potential. Don’t require a waiver or variance for solar development of these underutilized properties, even if the zoning does not accommodate solar.

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