By Dedra Cordle
Jackson Township officials say they have seen no glaring issues with a solar energy facility planned at 3413 Jackson Pike.
At its meeting on Sept. 14, the board of trustees were presented with an update regarding the Columbus Solar Park project, a development collaboration between the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) and the New York-based renewable energy company BQ Energy, LLC.
The facility, which is located at the former Model Landfill (in operation from 1967 to 1985) and the Phoenix Links Golf Course (in operation from 2000 to 2015), is estimated to generate 49.5 megawatts of AC power, enough electricity to power nearly 5,000 households.
Since the SWACO board of trustees approved the contract last summer which allowed BQ Energy to lease the 173-acre site for a period of 25 years with an option to extend it with mutual consent, the surveying and permitting process has been “smooth,” said developers.
“I don’t think we have ever been a part of a smoother project,” said Michael McNulty, senior project manager for BQ Energy.
McNulty told the township board that within those 15 months, the company – which exclusively builds renewable energy facilities on former landfill or brownfield sites – has secured a Rule 513 permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to grade and build the solar plant; completed interconnection studies with the city of Columbus; and have thus far received no complaints from federal water regulators and state wetland conservation groups or historical preservation groups.
He said within that permitting process, they are still working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make flood map revisions; submitting filings with the Ohio Power Siting Board for transmission line approval; seeking a no hazard determination with the Federal Aviation Administration; and determining whether bald eagles live within the area.
“We believe there is only one in the area, so that shouldn’t be a problem,” McNulty added.
McNulty said the extensive permitting process now has them submitting filings to the township, which has their own zoning rules independent of Franklin County.
This solar facility project is permitted in the “exceptional use” zoning district, said McNulty.
He said they will not seek variances with the township’s zoning standards and will be submitting a certificate of zoning compliance with the board next month.
He told the trustees that chain-link fencing would be installed around the 173-acre facility with barbed wire fencing placed around the substation on-site. He added they will keep the grass (landscapers will keep it low for operational safety) and plant native pollinators on the grounds if permissible.
“We do not want weeds growing super deep into the ground,” McNulty said.
While discussing the design of the solar energy facility, trustee Dave Burris said he had concerns regarding the methane that is still being released from the former landfill.
Scott Perry, the operations manager at SWACO, said it should not pose an issue with the development.
“It is burning off at a much lower percentage currently,” he said.
McNulty added that they will not build within a certain distance of the methane burners and they will cap the solar panel stabilization poles that go into the ground with bentonite clay. Perry added that the landfill membrane, or composite liner, is not in danger of being pierced.
“That landfill was working under old design standards,” said Perry.
Another representative with the solar company said the landfill was “clay-capped” and the state EPA gave them the authority to cover any potential landfill disruptions with two feet of dirt.
During the presentation, Jackson Township Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Quincel questioned whether broken solar panels or the wiring posed hazards to the department personnel should an emergency situation arise on site.
McNulty said there were no hazards posed to the firefighters that they knew of at this time.
“Environmental questions are coming up more frequently with panels about recycling, but generally the answer is there is no hazardous materials,” he said. “If one snaps and you handle it, there is no risk to you.”
He also said emergency vehicles will be able to access the site via pathways between the panel rows. He added that they would provide training opportunities with the fire department regarding the ins and outs of the solar facility.
Burris said he believed this solar facility project to be a “good use of the property.”
Township Administrator Shane Farnsworth agreed.
“We believe this project will be a great opportunity for the community,” he said. “There are limited uses for former landfill sites so having a company come in and transform it into a renewable energy facility that will benefit the community is very exciting.”
McNulty said if the process continues to be “as smooth as it has been,” the construction of Columbus Solar Park will start in March of 2022 and it will be on-line by the end of the year.
The power for the project has already been sold to AEP and the city of Columbus.
Once completed, Columbus Solar Park will be the largest landfill solar project in the country.