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Retired cells at the R-Board Regional Landfill off Eskimo Road in Stafford County could soon be covered with solar panels, if a joint venture between Stafford County and the City of Frederickburg moves forward (Photo courtesy of the R-Board)

Don’t dump on it: Stafford, Fredericksburg eye solar farms on landfill sites

by | May 28, 2024 | ALLFFP, Environmental, Fredericksburg, Stafford

After touring the R-Board Regional Landfill for the first time two years ago, Monica Gary couldn’t shake the idea that the site held wasted potential.  

Landfills, Gary explained, aren’t monolithic wastelands; rather, they’re divided into cells that are retired once they reach a certain height or capacity of refuse.  

Specifically, the land atop these retired cells sparked Gary’s imagination as she sat down for a post-visit coffee with then-Stafford County Administrator Randy Vosburg. 

In this case, the proverbial light bulb in her head was powered by solar energy. 

“I said, ‘Hey, I really think that we need to put solar on the expired landfill cells,’” recalled Gary, a member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and R-Board chair. “We’re not going to do anything else with the land, so it was really untapped potential for renewable energy.” 

Gary’s vision could soon be realized at two sites as a joint venture between Stafford County and the City of Fredericksburg.  

In addition to 40 acres worth of retired cells at Eskimo Hill, the project includes approximately 96 acres in south Stafford known as the former Cool Springs Road landfill. 

That site, which stopped accepting waste in 1988 and closed permanently in 1994, is owned by the city of Fredericksburg. At a May 14 City Council work session, city manager Tim Baroody said the two jurisdictions have been in discussions on the project for more than a year.  

“This is a fantastic example of regional collaboration and that we can work together to get stuff done,” Gary said. “So I’m very proud of that.” 

R-Board Director Phil Hathcock said he expects requests for proposals (RFPs) for the project to go out within the next two months. The RFPs will be out for approximately 60 days, and a contract could be awarded within a year.

“The RFP is written such that the respondent will be leasing the land from the city and county to construct and operate the solar farm,” Hathcock wrote in an email. 

After cells — or, in the case of Cool Springs, an entire landfill — are retired, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality regulations require monitoring the sites for methane emissions, a process that is handled locally by a renewable energy company called Amaresco, Gary said. 

Development opportunities on former landfills are limited, due to “caps” below ground that limit disturbance. At the May 14 work session, assistant city manager David Brown said any solar project would include an “exploratory investigation” to determine how far into the ground drilling can occur before reaching the cap.  

Gary said that other communities have utilized similar spaces for open-air parks, or, when climate-appropriate, ski slopes. One prominent example of landfill repurposing is Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach, which opened in 1974 and spans 165 acres.  

“I mean, it varies,” Gary said. “People just get very creative.” 

How exactly the electricity produced by the solar farms would be used will be subject to negotiations between the land owner(s) and any developer who takes on the project. Fredericksburg and Stafford own the R-Board site jointly, while the city owns the retired Cool Springs site.  

Any lease agreements would need to be approved by both the Stafford Board of Supervisors and Fredericksburg City Council. 

One option, according to Baroody, is selling the produced power back to Dominion Energy. 

Councilor Jon Gerlach (Ward 2) asked whether the city could use the solar project to leverage its stated goal of powering municipal operations with 100 percent clean energy by 2035. 

“I believe there is potential for that,” Baroody replied. “I believe you could use the energy from this to facilitate purchases outside the region… We do think that there’s some synergy here.” 

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