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Solar Panels (via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu)

After years of effort, solar panels are finally coming to the I-95 Landfill Complex in Lorton.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion on Sept. 13 to lease about 40 acres of the county-owned closed landfill within the complex to Sun Tribe Solar to install, operate, and maintain an array of ground-mounted solar panels.

Sun Tribe Solar, in turn, will let the county purchase renewable energy generated at the site with little upfront or operational costs, which staff say will help the county reduce its greenhouse emissions.

With the company quoting a rate of about 11 cents per kilowatt hour with no escalation over the life of the agreement, the county expects to save money immediately — about $51,000 in the first year of operation and over $1 million cumulatively by year eight.

Thought to be the first such project in the Commonwealth, the panels are expected to be installed and go online by the end of 2024, Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) Deputy Director Eric Forbes said at the meeting.

A map of where the solar panels will go at the I-95 Landfill Complex (via Fairfax County)

As a number of supervisors noted, though, it was a long time coming, with a number of challenges along the way.

Despite solid local support, the county needed approval from the Virginia General Assembly for solar panels to be installed on its land. The county was exploring the project at least as early as 2017, but every time it was taken to the state legislature, their request was denied.

The needed permission came at last from the 2020 Solar Freedom Act, which included a specific clause providing Fairfax County the go-ahead for the landfill project.

“I really wish this had happened a long time ago when I was chair of the environment committee because that’s when we first started having this discussion,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “[A closed landfill] is perfect for solar. If it had not been for that pesky Virginia General Assembly not allowing it unless there was a change in the legislation, we would have done this a long time ago and would have been way ahead of the game.”

Gross wasn’t the only one to express frustration at the state holding up a project that the county says will increase its use of renewable energy while also saving money. Read More

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Wikimedia Commons/Cbaile19)

With fall just around the corner, Fairfax County has begun to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of battery-powered blowers.

Last week, the county announced that its Park Authority and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) are “in the process of phasing out gas-powered blowers” in favor of “exclusively purchasing” battery-powered blowers.

“Having a gas-powered leaf blower operating in your vicinity is like inviting someone to blow a cloud of potentially dangerous chemicals, dust, and other pollutants in your direction,” the county website says. “A gas-powered leaf blower produces exhaust containing both hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides both of which are components of smog.”

The county is encouraging all contractors and residents to follow suit, saying battery-powered equipment is quieter, cleaner, and can be more cost-efficient to operate.

In November 2021, the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly passed a board matter introduced by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw that called for a stop to the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

In a statement to FFXnow, Walkinshaw said the county is “making good on that promise.”

Last year, the Board approved my motion to phase-out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn equipment on County-owned property. Now, I am pleased to say that we are making good on that promise by replacing the existing County inventory with electric blowers and incentivizing the use of electric equipment by our landscaping contractors.

Gas-powered leaf blowers can emit 23 times the carbon dioxide of a Ford F-150 and operate at noise levels that can cause hearing damage. This is about Fairfax County being a good neighbor to those living near our facilities and helping to accelerate a shift to electric landscaping equipment. I’m hopeful that incentivizing the use of electric equipment through our procurement process will encourage more local landscaping contractors to make that shift, giving residential and commercial property owners more choices in the marketplace.

Supervisors had hoped the county’s adoption of the ordinance would encourage the Virginia General Assembly to do the same. While other nearby localities have also taken up this issue in recent years, a recent House bill failed to get out of committee.

Fairfax County’s conversion may unfold gradually. Although the process started in December, there is no concrete timeline yet for when all the gas-powered blowers will be phased out, acting FCPA Public Information Officer Roberta Korzen told FFXnow.

“The gas-powered blowers will be phased out and replaced with battery-powered blowers at the end of their life cycle,” Korzen wrote in an email. A gas-powered leaf blower can last up to 10 years with proper maintenance.

The park authority currently has only seven battery-powered blowers, compared to more than 100 gas-powered ones. That number doesn’t include contractors.

It’s unknown how many gas-powered blowers are used by county contractors, but Korzen said the county “encourages the use of battery-powered blowers by its contractors.”

FCPA estimates it will cost about $150,000 to phase out the equipment.

“As funding and supply is available we are purchasing battery-powered blowers. We have made a few purchases to date. We are hoping additional funding will be available in the near future,” Korzen said.

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Morning Notes

A guard tower on the former Lorton Prison grounds, now turned into the Workhouse Arts Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Man Dies After Crash in Oakton — “A 78-year-old man has died from injuries sustained in a single-vehicle crash that occurred at 2:01 p.m. on March 30 in Oakton. Thomas Peregoy of Alexandria was driving eastbound on Lawyers Road near Kedge Drive when his 2014 Toyota Tacoma drifted off the roadway to the right, striking a tree head on.” [FCPD]

Genomic Sequencing Could Help ID “Christmas Tree Lady” — “For 25 years, the Fairfax County police have tried and failed to identify ‘the Christmas Tree Lady,’ so named because she placed an 8-inch Christmas tree with gold balls and red ribbons on the clear plastic sheet she put on the ground…She is the only person to die by suicide in Fairfax whom authorities have been unable to identify, before or since.” [The Washington Post]

County Launches Month-Long Solar Energy Campaign — “Fairfax County is pleased and proud to participate in the annual Solarize campaign, which brings residents and businesses bulk discounts on solar systems…Through the program, you can receive a free satellite assessment of your property to determine if it is suitable for solar.” [Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination]

Fort Belvoir Hospital Trauma Center Verified — “Fort Belvoir Community Hospital has received Level lll Trauma Center verification after demonstrating its ability to provide prompt assessment, surgery, intensive care and emergency operations…The only other verified trauma center in Northern Virginia is Inova Fairfax Hospital, a Level I facility.” [Inside NoVA]

Carjacking Reported in Mount Vernon — A man was driving in the 3700 block of Rolling Hills Avenue on March 26 when four men in a brown Nissan Altima blocked his vehicle. “The men then got out of the Altima, displayed a firearm and assaulted the victim,” police say. “The men then left the area in the victim’s car. The victim was treated for injuries not considered life threatening.” [FCPD]

McLean Arts Nonprofit Plans Spring Shows — The McLean Project for the Arts will host its first-ever “Spring Solo” exhibitions starting on April 14. The nonprofit received over 130 proposals, according to its artistic director and curator. Work from three artists, two from D.C. and one from Arlington, will be on display through June 11. [Sun Gazette]

Reston Community Center Announces Spring Programming — “Some of RCC’s most popular seasonal experiences are already sold out (Eggnormous Egg Hunt, Crafternoons), so don’t wait to enroll in the activities that still have space for children and their families!” [RCC]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 56 and low of 34. Sunrise at 6:50 a.m. and sunset at 7:36 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons)

Fairfax County will phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in county operations.

Gas-powered leaf blowers are too noisy, dirty, and do not adhere to the newly-adopted Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, according to several county supervisors. Instead, officials are recommending the use of electric equipment, along with leaf and grasscycling.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw presented a joint board matter directing county staff to develop a plan for ending gas-powered leaf blower purchases at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The board approved the matter by a vote of 9-1 with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity dissenting.

“The use of gas-powered leaf blowers presents a number of problems,” said Walkinshaw at the meeting. “Most prominently, their extreme and pentertraing noise levels and the highly toxic emissions from the out of date two stroke engines.”

Walkinshaw noted that the blowers operate at a noise level that could potentially cause hearing damage. He also mentioned that they are inefficient in terms of its output and emit 23 times the amount of carbon dioxide as a Ford pickup truck.

The board matter additionally calls for contractors that work for the county to begin transitioning away from this type of equipment, encouraged by incentives from the county.

“By taking an incentive-based approach to our procurement policies, we can jumpstart the transition from dirty and noisy gas-powered blowers,” wrote Walkinshaw in a statement. “This initiative sends a strong signal to landscaping contractors that now is the time to invest in cleaner equipment.”

However, specific incentives were not discussed and will be established “when staff reports back,” a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office wrote to FFXnow in an email.

As of yet, there’s no deadline established for the phase out.

During the meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that the county currently owns 133 gas-powered leaf blowers.

However, that number doesn’t include ones used by contractors who work for the county, a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office confirmed.

Alcron said he still hoped that this idea of banning gas blowers would be also adopted by the Virginia General Assembly, but stated that the county’s adoption was “clearly a step in the right direction.”

McKay acknowledged converting to an entirely electric fleet of blowers could be very expensive for some contractors, but hopes that the county phasing out this type of equipment is “leading by example.”

A cost estimate for phasing out this equipment isn’t available yet, but it’s expected to be minimal, according to Walkinshaw’s office.

Photo via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons

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