Interview, by Triodos Investment ManagementIn the spring of 2021, the Eerbeek solar park (Zonnepark Eerbeek) will start supplying solar power. And quite a lot of it too: the park's 15,570 panels will generate enough power for 1,600 households. Time to celebrate for the BrummenEnergie co-operative, social project development company Solar Green Point and investors Oost NL and Triodos Groenfonds. First and foremost, the solar park is a shining example of effective use of space on a landfill site that has been given a second, green, lease of life. It is illustrative of the smooth realisation of the Eerbeek solar park that the construction had the full approval of the local population. Zero objections were submitted, says Guus Koster. As a member of BrummenEnergie, he has been involved with the initiative undertaken by residents of the municipality to jointly generate sustainable energy from the word go. “This is a win-win situation for all parties involved”, notes Koster with satisfaction. He briefly outlines the project's history: “In 2014, a number of residents of the municipality decided to join forces in their quest for sustainability. One of the opportunities they spotted concerned the old disused landfill site in a wood on the outskirts of the village of Eerbeek. From the 1960s until 2001 this site had been used mainly for dumping paper pulp. The local paper industry dates back to the 17th century. The owner of the landfill site at Doonweg proved interested in giving the 13 hectares of landfill a creative new purpose. In the end, just under half the site, i.e. 6 hectares, has been transformed into a solar park. This area equals twelve soccer fields.” The completion of the project still took some doing, but the parties involved never doubted that it would be brought to a successful conclusion. Solar Green Point's
Stan Verheijen joined in the talks at an early stage, as a developer of medium-sized collective solar parks. In 2011 he developed the first cooperative solar project in The Hague. “I believe that participation by the local community is essential.” According to Verheijen, every solar park is just that little bit different and therefore requires a customized approach. “The early stages are always a bit of puzzle. This was especially true in those first few years, when we did not yet have much experience with cooperatives, and everything was new.” Looking back on the Eerbeek solar power project, he notes that this project stood out for him. “The realisation went off without a hitch. I look back on a very pleasant and smooth collaboration.”
Local participation essential
The idea of installing solar panels on a landfill site was perhaps not new, but paper pulp behaves differently from regular landfill sites that have been covered with a thick layer of soil. “Paper pulp contains a lot of moisture. It is not stable”, explains Koster. As a member of BrummenEnergie he had been appointed as project leader. In consultation with and subsidised by the province of Gelderland, a study was carried out into the best method for generating solar energy. “Around 4000 m2 was covered partly with solar foil, which is a new technology, and another part was covered with panels in a rooftop configuration.” But the foil, however innovative, proved unsuitable. The material deteriorated rapidly, and the yield was disappointing.
For the province of Gelderland and the landowner, the idea of installing solar panels on the old landfill site was attractive. The regime for landfill sites is very strict and subject to all sorts of environmental regulations. Although in Eerbeek the developers were not dealing with hazardous waste, any harmful effect for the surrounding area had to be avoided. As a temporary capping layer for a period of up to 25 years it was decided to use steel slag in Eerbeek. Steel slag is a waste product produced by the Tata steelworks in IJmuiden. Road builders have found that steel slag is very effective for stabilising motorways and the product has the additional benefit of preventing water from seeping through. “This type of capping is very suitable as a stable base for solar panels”, explains Koster.
“A perfect example of how we would like to see sustainable energy projects being executed.”Stan Verheijen, Solar Green pointFlexible system
Before the solar panel constructions were installed, the layout of the site was designed to achieve the optimum orientation of the panels. This was done in close consultation with the landowner. “The landfill site was not even, and the surface was covered with little mounds. In order to achieve a favourable orientation towards the sun, an even plateau of 6 hectares was created and this area was covered with a temporary capping layer of steel slag.” The panels sit on top of small brackets and have been connected to form ‘islands’ of nineteen by twenty panels. This makes the system flexible and less sensitive to subsidence. “The know-how that we gained will be useful when we execute other collective solar projects", says property developer Verheijen. “We learned a lot.”
BrummenEnergie and Solar Green Point each own 50% of the shares in the limited company that was established to operate the solar park. BrummenEnergie and Solar Green Point contributed 5% of the funding, the East Netherlands Development Agency (Oost NL) contributed another 5% and Triodos Groenfonds provided 90% of the funding. “Its social embedding and the broad public support for the project, make Eerbeek solar park a shining example of dual use of space,” says Verheijen. “A perfect example of how we would like to see sustainable energy projects being executed.” Angeles Toledo Rodriguez, the fund manager of Triodos Groenfonds, agrees: "For us, both aspects are important criteria when we decide whether or not to invest in a project.” Koster expects that BrummenEnergie will use the future proceeds to fund other local projects. Integration into the landscape and local participation are prerequisites for success. “If we are to supply all households in our municipality with green power, we will need 100 hectares of solar panels. This park and two other ones that we have in mind, will bring us to about a quarter.” Brummen is on the right track and, importantly, has done so with the support and cooperation of the local population.