A forty acre, six megawatt solar power plant is providing the energy to run a water treatment operation at a Superfund site in California, and the U.S. EPA is so pleased with the results that they’ve produced a detailed case study to help promote similar projects across the country.
The case study details how solar power came to resolve groundwater contamination at the Aeroject General Corporation site (pdf) through a partnership that involved the company, the local utility, and the solar installer – and it also describes how the installation is producing benefits beyond its initial goals.
The Aerojet Superfund Site
Aerojet is an aerospace and defense company situated on 5,900 acres in the Sacramento area. It acquired the former gold mining area in the 1950′s, when it was relatively remote. In 1983 EPA put part of the property on the National Priorities list due to groundwater contaminated with industrial chemicals and pesticides, which threatened the nearby American River. To clean up the site, billions of gallons of water (102 billion so far) have been pumped out of the ground and sent to a treatment plant, which of course requires copious amounts of energy.
The Aerojet Site and Solar Power
Multiple factors came together to enable the solar installation. Aerojet has development plans for other parts of its property, so it was highly motivated to cut the cost of remediating the Superfund site while reducing its carbon footprint. It also had land available on its property that was ideal for a solar installation (in other words, flat and undeveloped). The local utility was none other than the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which has been front and center in adopting solar energy. The utility put up $13 million of the installation’s $20 million cost under a power purchase agreement. One crucial piece of the puzzle was the installer, Solar Power, Inc., which stepped up to the plate and self-financed the first phase of the project when the investment community got the jitters, partly due to the 2008 and crash and partly over concern that the use of a Superfund site would cause complications.
Solar Remediation is a Great Investment
EPA’s case study is designed to lay those fears to rest and get the investment community more involved in reclaiming contaminated sites for renewable energy generation. In addition to the Aerojet project, EPA has established a solid track record of using solar power and other green remediation techniques, which are far less costly and can take far less time than traditional dig and dump cleanup methods. The agency’s Re-Powering American Lands program has uncovered a potential gold mine of 14 million acres in cheap, available sites that could be used for new solar and wind power installations, and it has been targeting renewable energy projects that create new green jobs in local communities.
Aerojet and Green Jobs
EPA is not the only one pleased with the outcome of the project. The new solar array not only powers elements of the remediation effort, it also provides power for some of Aerojet’s facilities on the property. That convinced Aerojet of the viability of solar power investment, and the company has formed an Executive Sustainability Council to work with Solar Power, Inc. and the local utility to add more solar installations, leading to new green jobs. It has also made the installation available to local community colleges for hadns-on training in solar energy technology, which will help develop a new green workforce for the future.
Image: Sunlight on water by peasap on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.