By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — A solar farm built atop the former municipal dump is now tapped into the electrical grid and expected to defray the city’s utility bills by $80,000 each year.
On their own, the 5,156 solar panels installed at the Huntington Avenue landfill each produce about as much energy as a bicyclist. But collectively, the photovoltaic array can power roughly 250 homes when operating at peak capacity.
Mayor Stephen Zanni unveiled Methuen’s solar farm this week to a small group of local officials and employees of Borrego Solar Systems, Inc., which built and will operate the system. The panels were connected to the electrical grid in July.
In return for access to the landfill, Borrego will transfer power generated from the solar panels into the National Grid system and the utility will sell the electricity back to Methuen at a below-market rate — saving the city as much as $80,000 a year, local officials estimate.
“Each quarter, Borrego will be able to tell us exactly how much we’re saving,” said Zanni. “It’s a great savings to the community.”
The Huntington Avenue solar farm project was spearheaded by former Mayor William Manzi. City councilors in November 2011 unanimously approved agreements with Borrego that cleared the way for construction.
Borrego will lease space atop the landfill from the city for the next 20 years. At maximum capacity, the solar farm can generate 1,300 kilowatts of solar energy. A kilowatt is 1,000 watts.
The farm consists of four patches of solar panels spread across the landfill, which closed in 1997 and is located off Howe Street and adjacent to the New Hampshire line and Route 213.
The panels rest on concrete blocks. The system ties back into the electrical grid on nearby Kensington Avenue. Workers built the project without penetrating the landfill cap, which is located below two feet of loam and sand.
“We can’t dig down so we had to build up,” said Borrego project development manager Miles Hovis.
There are currently at least 11 solar arrays operating atop landfills in Massachusetts, with at least two dozen more in development, according to the state Department of Energy Resources.
Methuen began exploring the idea of a solar farm in late 2009. The city later received a $35,000 state grant to pay a consultant to help develop a request for proposals.
Massachusetts has taken aggressive action in recent years to tap into renewable energy.
Solar installations across the state now have the capability to generate 298 megawatts of power, according to state energy officials. Initially, Gov. Deval Patrick sought to reach 250 megawatts by 2017. But that level was surpassed this spring and the governor has since established a new benchmark of 1,600 megawatts by 2020. A megawatt is a mi
Borrego is headquartered in San Diego and has an office Lowell. The company has installed “over 24 percent of the commercial operational solar capacity in Massachusetts,” according to a press release.
Methuen is also working with Borrego to purchase 10 megawatts of energy credits generated from solar installations in Lancaster, Newbury, and Williamstown. The city projects $575,000 in annual savings from that venture.