Solar Over Abandoned Landfills — Let The Sun Shine In!

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Installing solar over abandoned landfills is generally viewed as a win-win solution for waste and energy management.

Yes, converting a detrimental disposed waste infrastructure to scale up renewable energy in the electricity generation portfolio certainly presents challenges. It also offers opportunities.

  • Renewable solar energy goals help to restore and stabilize degraded land.
  • Instead of occupying land for ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, which may transform rural environments, solar over abandoned landfills desensitizes community aesthetic complaints about land use.
  • Solar over abandoned landfills offers a large, open space and does not compete with agricultural or other productive uses.
  • A PV system installation will be facilitated by the existing road network, enabling unobstructed and fast transport of the systems’ equipment.
  • Closed landfills are generally secured, fenced, and monitored, which is also needed in solar PV systems.
  • Having basic site monitoring and security already in place substantially reduces the relevant costs.
  • Due to their typical location far from environmentally protected areas such as mountains or forests, their transformation will not affect fragile ecosystems.

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The US is quite active in the field of solar landfills, hosting completed landfill solar photovoltaic system (SPVS) projects and having more in the planning stage.

  • The earliest installation was the 276 kWp project in Paulsboro, NJ, that provides electricity locally to the site and has operated since 2002.
  • By 2012, 15 landfill SPVS projects were operating (total power capacity: 17.5 MWp) in New Jersey and an additional 27.5 MWp was located in other states.
  • Republic Services unveiled in September, 2017 a total of 41,000 solar panels across three closed landfills in Massachusetts. The 13.5 MW project can power an estimated 1,900 households and was designed for a 40-year lifespan. Soltage was behind the project, with investment from Basalt Infrastructure Partners and Eastern Bank. The projects benefited from a favorable regulatory climate and incentives for renewable energy projects in Massachusetts.
  • Two landfill solar projects are noteworthy in Ohio. One, located in Cuyahoga County, is a 4 MW project is owned and operated by IGS Solar, a commercial and residential solar provider and an affiliate company of IGS Energy, an independent retail energy supplier. The solar project can provide over 5,000,000 kWh of clean solar electricity to county-owned facilities annually. Additionally, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio and developer BQ Energy Development LLC are gathering final approvals from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for their plan to build a $60 million solar farm on the 173-acre closed Model Landfill in Jackson Township, off Jackson Pike near I-71, after having completed much of the planning and public hearings to prepare it.
  • Source Renewables applied to the City of Buffalo, NY in 2021 to rezone the Marilla Street Landfill to accommodate a distributed generation solar farm. The project would consist of two 5 MW solar arrays expected to produce enough electricity to power more than 2,500 households per year. Formerly a disposal area by the former Republic Steel Co. for waste from steelmaking operation, the property was sold in 2002. Source Renewables said the proposed community solar project represents an opportunity to repurpose the property to produce clean electricity, create jobs, increase tax revenue, and save money for local residents who can’t install their own solar.
  • The transformation of a landfill in Houston into the largest urban solar farm in the US will be a testament to the power of renewable energy and will reclaim the middle of Houston’s Sunnyside community, which is a historically Black neighborhood.

Determining optimal siting for solar over abandoned landfills is easiest for landfills with advantageous characteristics — large unshaded area, hydrogeological conditions, terrain stability, current land cover, and transmission infrastructure proximity — that would optimize solar electricity production.

Methodological algorithm of a two-tier multi-criteria analysis supporting the SPVS suitability mapping on closed landfills. Made available through Creative Commons.

An Announcement about a New Project to Cover 2 Closed Landfills with Solar Systems

SunPower Corp. has announced new projects with Baltimore County to cover 2 closed landfills with solar systems. These projects are expected to generate upwards of 30 megawatts (MW) of clean energy, equivalent to the power used by 1/3 of the County’s municipal buildings including government facilities. The projects, located at the closed Hernwood and Parkton landfills, are the first large-scale solar energy projects in Baltimore County’s history and mark a new milestone for the County to address climate change.

Under power purchase agreements (PPAs), the County pays $0 upfront while SunPower and its financiers cover the cost of the arrays. Over the next 25 years, the County will pay a flat, fixed rate per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for the solar generation, expected to save millions of dollars in electricity costs. Through Maryland’s “aggregate net metering” rule, Baltimore Gas & Electric will credit the solar generated at the landfills against electric loads at other County buildings.

“We’re proud to be taking a bold step forward to ensure Baltimore County remains a statewide leader in renewable energy and helps build a greener and cleaner future for our communities,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said. “Climate change poses one of the most significant threats to our long-term health and prosperity. That is why we are thankful for this partnership with SunPower to transform these sites into productive alternative energy sources, further reducing Baltimore County’s carbon footprint and helping us meet our renewable energy goals.”

Along with other sustainability initiatives, the solar project in Baltimore County is expected to help the County reach its sustainability goals. County Executive Olszewski signed an Executive Order setting an aggressive new goal to complete future renewable energy projects set to generate electricity equivalent to 100% of Baltimore County’s electricity demand by 2026 and 125% by 2030.

The projects will now enter the design and permitting phase, with construction expected to begin in 2022 and to be fully operational by 2023. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas calculator, the 43 million kWh generated annually by the projects will capture the same amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide as 40,000 acres of US forests – nearly the same size as Washington, DC.

“Electricity savings from solar can help municipalities invest more money into our schools, parks, and community centers. We applaud Baltimore County for transforming otherwise under-utilized land into productive solar parks, enabling them to achieve their ambitious sustainability goals while significantly improving the County’s budget,” said Eric Potts, Executive Vice President for Commercial Direct at SunPower.

Image provided courtesy of SunPower Instagram

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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