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

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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Tina 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+.

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