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Solar Panel Project in Onslow County

Onslow County will soon be home to a solar farm that will power more than 2,400 homes.  We talk about the scope of the project and tour the facility that is currently using landfill gas to create electricity.

Onslow County is leading the way in how they generate power for local homes and businesses.  The Onslow County Board of Commissioners recently approved a project that would place 6,000 solar panels at the landfill on Meadowview Road.  This announcement comes just after a landfill gas to energy system was installed at the same site.  On Wednesday, the director of Onslow County’s Department of Solid Waste Scott Bost took me on a tour of the gas to energy system and the solar panel test site.

 “What you’re looking at here is an example of a solar panel installation.” 

It was a cold, windy day at the solar panel test site, the future spot of the 14 acre solar farm.  There wasn’t any smell even though we were standing on top of oldest landfill. 

“You have three panels but you have 6,000 of these on the site here.  The reason this is here is we’re going to demonstrate to the state that this installation will not will not harm the cap, we’re standing on the cap of the closed landfill.”

According to Bost, this is the first solar project in the state to be located on top of a capped landfill.  When completed, the panels will produce 1.9 Megawatts of power, which is enough to power 2,400 homes. 

“The reason its level is because the garbage has degraded over the years, it’s subsided.   It’s moved to this level surface.  As you see, it’s a nice, grassy level surface so it’s ideal for solar panel installation.”

However, the solar farm’s location on top of a hill does make it susceptible to high winds.  But Bost says the panels will be anchored to the ground and can withstand hurricane force winds.  Construction will start after the first of the year and should be completed in June.  Once the solar panels are installed, electricity will be combined with the output from the nearby landfill gas to energy system, and then sent to the Duke Energy power grid.  So far, Bost says the project has attracted the attention of other municipalities across the state including New Hanover County and High Point that want to implement similar systems.

“I already received two phone calls from landfills in Gaston County and one in the western part of the state about doing it at their site too, they wanted to know who we use, and what they should do to get it permitted.  So again, Onslow County leading the way, and that’s a good feeling.”

The project is being funded by Onslow Power Producers, part of Enerdyne Power Systems based in Charlotte.  In addition to decreasing the use of fossil fuels, Onslow County will also benefit financially receiving a license fee of $10,000 for each solar site.  Vice Chairperson of the Onslow County Board of Commissioners Barbara Ikner is excited about the project.

“Local governments only have one source of income and that’s taxation.  If we can provide another source of revenue to our county, it lessens the burden of taxation on citizens with still maintaining a high level of services provided.  So it’s a benefit for both environmentally and a revenue source.”

The solar project is expected to provide a source of revenue to Onslow County of between $50,000 and $100,000 dollars.  Just a short drive from the solar panel test site is the newly installed landfill gas to energy system.  The facility was closer to the open landfill and the smell of decomposing trash and methane was thick in the air.  Bost commented that it was the smell of money.  As waste decomposes, methane gas is produced.  The gas to energy facility collects the ozone depleting gas from inside the pit, preventing it from being released into the environment.  After the collection, the gas is used to fuel a generator which creates electricity.  Jeff Birch is the site manager for Onslow Power Producers.  He is in charge of making sure the generator is always working without a hitch.

“This runs 24 hours a day, I come out six days a week, I come out on Saturday check everything.  When I’m here, every couple of hours I’ll go out and check my meters and check my equipment make sure everything is running the way it’s supposed to.”

The generator produces the same amount of power as the solar panel project will when they’re operational.  Birch estimates there’s enough methane gas in the three landfills at the Onslow County site to keep the generator running for at least 20 years.  For more information on the two projects, go to publicradioeast.org. 

For more information, click here: http://www.onslowcountync.gov/landfill/

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.