Guilford company wants to build solar-generating array atop West Haven’s former Spring Street dump

WEST HAVEN — A Guilford solar energy company wants to put what it believes could eventually be the largest solar farm in Connecticut atop the long-dormant former Spring Street landfill — which currently is West Haven’s biggest tax scofflaw with more than $500,000 owed.

The proposed 4-megawatt project, which the company’s CEO said could end up being 5 megawatts, would be a ground-mounted solar-generating facility on two privately-owned properties on Spring Street.

It would save the city about $1.46 million in electricity bills over the next 20 years, SolarUS Inc. CEO Stephen W. Elkins recently told city officials.

Joseph A. Riccio Jr., the city’s commissioner of planning and development, said SolarUS has an option on 8 Spring St., which is 29.13 acres, and 2 Spring St., which is 12.94 acres.

Both currently are owned by Solid Waste Disposal Inc. of Connecticut.

Details of whether SolarUS Inc. would buy the property or lease it, and who would pay the back taxes — and over what period of time — are still being worked out, Riccio said.

Elkins pitched the project, which would involve installing a series of solar arrays atop the closed dump, last week to the City Council. SolarUS is a Guilford-based manufacturer, distributor and developer of solar products.

Similar arrays already are installed on other closed landfills in the area, including Hamden, North Haven and Bridgeport. The Bridgeport facility was described at one point as being in the 5-megawatt range.

“The partnership we are trying to form with SolarUS will be a huge benefit to West Haven in both lowering our energy costs long term and reducing our carbon footprint,” Mayor Edward M. O’Brien said.

“We want to transform a former landfill into something very positive that will not only save us money but work to modernize our infrastructure,” he said in a news release. O’Brien didn’t attend the City Council meeting at which Elkins made his pitch.

Right now, the old landfill — which Solid Waste Disposal Inc. closed along with the smaller Helm Street landfill across Spring Street in the late 1980s — “is just laying there,” Elkins told the council.

“Our proposal is to turn this into an active property,” primarily using the southern face of the property, he said.

Among the benefits would be revamping what is now “a dead site,” generating savings on the city’s electricity bills, creating jobs and providing local electric generation, as well as reducing the city’s greenhouse gases and contribution to global warming, Elkins said.

It would provide “a substantial carbon offset,” Elkins told the council.

The array’s environmental value in terms of carbon offset would be equivalent to 88,444 acres of forests, or an area six times the size of Manhattan, Elkins said. He pointed out that electric rates have increased an average of 3.5 percent per year in recent years.

The city would get a starting net meter discount of 10 percent — and annual energy savings of more than $70,000, he said.

In response to a question by City Councilman David Riccio, R-At Large, Elkins estimated the cost to install the arrays would be about $8 million.

“The city’s only responsibility is to buy the power we produce,” he said. West Haven “won’t own it.”

Leslie Naizby, revenue and asset management director in the city’s Tax Collector’s Office, confirmed Monday that Solid Waste Disposal Inc. has made no payments at all for more than 15 years on any of its three delinquent properties.

“All 3 properties are liened yearly,” but “the city has been reluctant to incur the expense and potential liability to initiate a foreclosure action without a viable plan to address the environmental issues,” Naizby said in an email.

“We’ve discussed it many times,” she said in a telephone interview. “But the problem is, it’s contaminated.”

Solid Waste Disposal Inc. formerly was owned by the late Joseph Latella and the late Joseph E. “Chick” Celentano. It is now believed to be owned by their respective heirs or estates.

The company’s last filing with the Secretary of the State’s Office, in 2014, listed the corporation as active, Peter Celentano — the late Joe Latella’s son — as president and Celentano, who died in 2015, as secretary and a director.

Its mailing address was listed as 183 Beach St., the now-vacant address of Celentano’s Chick’s Drive-In, which closed in late 2015 following Celentano’s death.

The amount Solid Waste Disposal Inc. actually owes the city may be well in excess of $500,000. A 1995 story in the New Haven Register put the figure at $500,000 at that time — with no taxes having been paid at that point in more than 10 years.

Joseph Riccio said, with regard to why the city hasn’t gone after Solid Waste for the money it owes, “I don’t know the answer to that other than philosphically. … So if you take the property and the property has an environmental liability, what good is it?

“But we have often thought that that would be a good property for a solar farm,” Riccio said. A solar installation offers “a good payout over 20 years, reduction of energy costs to the municipality for over 20 years.”

“Right now we’re going to negotiate with these individuals,” he said. “They might want to close on the property or there might be a structured transaction where the city gets paid and the developer may own the property or the city may own the property.”

He said it would be “best” for the city to get the entire back-tax figure up front, “but if that’s going to be” a deal-breaker, “then maybe not.”

But first, “they have to determine whether this is feasible from an engineering standpoint and an environmental standpoint and a financial standpoint,” Riccio said. Whatever arrangement the city and the company reach “has to be reasonable and palatable to the public.”

Elkins, whose grandparents lived in West Haven and whose father lived there as a child, said, “We have the capability to execute on the project, provided it pencils out.” Negotiators are working out “the liability issue” and “the back taxes issue,” he said.

But paying the back taxes “would be part and parcel of the deal — whether it’s a one-shot payment or whether it’s paid out over time,” Elkins said. “That’s one of the pieces of the deal to be worked out. Those are the hairy things. Building the system is no problem,” he said.

“I heard their comments,” said Joseph Riccio of city residents who asked at the Oct. 23 City Council meeting how the unpaid taxes on the dump could have ballooned to more than $500,000 when people get liened when they owe $300 on their car tax bills. “We’re going to try to structure a deal that’s a win-win for all.

“I’m negotiating a memorandum of understanding,” Riccio said. “We’ll go back to council for their approval. We’ll see if we can come up with an agreement that’s sustainable and will be beneficial for all … because that property just sitting there isn’t doing anybody any good.”

Elkins’s proposal said SolarUS would finance the design, engineering, permitting, procurement, construction, interconnection, operation and maintenance of the solar photovoltaic system.

The proposal also said SolarUS would generate revenue from the energy produced on-site through the net meter allocation structure and the state Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit Program.

mark.zaretsky@hearstmediact.com
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