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Clean Power Superfund solar farm in Indianapolis

Published on April 10th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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Blight To Bright: Superfund Site Gets First Ever Utility Scale Solar Farm

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April 10th, 2014 by
 
Yes, the newly completed Hanwha Q CELLS utility-scale solar farm at a Superfund Site in Indianapolis is the first of its kind and it illustrates a point we’ve been hammering on for a while now: solar power lets you extract energy and value from already-built-upon sites, even blighted Superfund sites. That’s quite a contrast to the current practice of extracting coal by blowing the tops off pristine mountains in rural Appalachia.

This particular Superfund Site, the Reilly Tar & Chemical Corporation Plant, has been undergoing various forms of remediation for more than 20 years. Construction of the solar farm enabled the overall remediation plan to move forward while involving little of the conventional, fuel-sucking process of soil excavation and removal.

Superfund solar farm in Indianapolis

Superfund solar farm in Indianapolis courtesy of Hanwah Q CELLS.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical Superfund Site

For those of you new to Superfund, this is an abandoned hazardous site cleanup program and funding program established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, sparked by the notorious Love Canal episode among others.

The new law provided an authority framework for the US Environmental Protection Agency to perform site assessment and cleanup, and also to pursue reimbursement from those responsible.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site is about 120 acres. The complex site required different types of cleanup in different areas including a groundwater extraction system, soil removal and thermal treatment, sludge solidification and capping, soil vapor treatment with concrete capping, and repairs to sewers. All of this work was completed between 1994 and 2010.

Solar Cells On A Superfund Site

The Hanwha Q CELLS solar farm, dubbed the Maywood Solar Farm, is a 10.86 MW operation on 43 acres of the Reilly site.

The solar farm is significant because Hanwha Q CELLS was able to complete the project within budget, despite the added complications of building on a Superfund Site. Here’s part of what was involved (breaks added):

Hanwha Q CELLS employed an internally-developed and adaptive construction methodology in concert with US EPA to meet existing site environmental covenants.

The proprietary Hanwha Q CELLS Soil Disturbance Minimization Plan resulted in a volume reduction of site soil movement of more than 93% over conventional construction approaches, while also minimizing the potential for exposing known underground hazards, impairing the existing site environmental remedy, or creating human exposure to site hazards.

Also of significance, Maywood was backed by conventional solar industry financing without government incentives. Aside from Hanwha Q CELLS and EPA, partners in the project include Vertellus Specialties Inc., Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Power & Light, PNC Bank, August Mack Environmental Consulting, URS Corporation, US Utilities and Solar FlexRack.

Millions Of Acres For Solar Development

To give you an idea of how much the financial success of this project could open the floodgates to Superfund solar farm development, consider that the US EPA has assessed tens of thousands of hazardous sites since 1980.

Working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, EPA recently came up with a figure of 14 million for the number of acres in classified sites that have the potential for solar power development.

Keep in mind that these sites are generally cheap to acquire, and they generally enjoy many of the advantages of former industrial sites including proximity to existing transportation routes including road, rail, and water, as well as existing electrical transmission lines and available grid connections.

If this is starting to ring some bells you are probably thinking of the Obama Administration’s Re-Powering America’s Land initiative. It calls for repurposing Superfund sites and brownfields (derelict industrial sites that involve little or no hazardous materials) for renewable energy generation, including wind as well as solar.

The initiative also doubles as a redevelopment program and green jobs generator for blighted areas.

To ice the cake, EPA is also pursuing solar-powered remediation at classified sites.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • SeanThomes

    not first on superfund site. aerojet, chevron questa, brookhaven lab projects all built before this project. but still cool outcome. glad to see it.

  • Larry

    Reilly Tar and Chemical must have left a legacy of contaminated sites and Environmental degradation wherever they went. Had a Superfund site in MN too. I wonder how many sites on the National Superfund list had a Reilly Tar and Chemical ownership on them

  • Larry

    Excellent story. Excellent example on how government and private industry can work together to solve problems and make things better.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Tina, you are one of the best environmental writers today. Good job. It’s important to tie everything together when discussing environment and energy, including climate change, pollution control contaminated site cleanup (remediation) and ecology.

    On the other hand, it’s not good to justify not doing site remediation due to the manufactured metric called “sustainable remediation.” Sustainable remediation allows companies to leave a site still contaminated, due to weirdly tallied criteria and a rather suspiciously assigned carbon footprint for cleanup action. Your post kind of went there. Flippantly, but you did go there.

    For example, let’s say a refinery has impacted soil and groundwater over the years via spillage. The carbon footprint of the refinery is huge. However, it would be feasible under Sustainable Remediation to allow soil and groundwater to remain untreated because doing nothing has a smaller carbon footprint than doing active remediation. Compared to the refinery, the soil and groundwater remediation carbon footprint is miniscule. I believe the same folks who pushed for the issue of sustainable remediation are the same folks who may have helped ALEC write environmental policy.

    Site remediation cleanup criteria has undergone 20 years of lessening (becoming less restrictive). Basically allowing soil and groundwater to be considered clean, but not clean enough to use the site for much else.This could be a landfill, a refinery, an Army base or a corner gas station. We’re leaving too many of the sites uninhabitable to future generations. We’re also creating many more potential sites with fracking, tar sands and go-go re-industrialization. And most importantly, groundwater is the only sourced water drinkable (assuming it was impacted by something) with little to no treatment.

    Using one environmental concern to justify not doing something about another concern is stupid. Fracking proponents use climate change to justify unfettered fracking, i.e. “we have to frack and how because it’s better than coal.”

    • Michael Berndtson

      Wow, Tina was on this issue back in 2011 concerning the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Site.The EPA white paper on the project:

      http://yosemite.epa.gov/r9/sfund/r9sfdocw.nsf/b488311d281d26d7882574260072fae1/637efb002511a748882576580082b8ff/$FILE/Frontier10_09%20987%20kb.pdf

      The technology used for subsurface cleanup was in situ electric resistance heating.

      Ironically, in situ electric resistance heating is being developed to recover tar sands in Alberta – as an alternative to the ongoing in situ steam extraction. Development and initial commercial testing in Alberta is fairly far along. The company doing the work is ET Energy in Alberta. Early R&D on in situ electric resistance heating was done by the US Department of Energy (us taxpayers) back in the 1980s/early 1990s.

  • Senlac

    It doesn’t get much better than this. Solar is the perfect fit and turns a problem in a solution.

  • Phil McCracken

    Diss Cuss really vacuums…

  • Banned by Bob

    Now that is an excellent idea.

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