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Renewable Energy

‘RE-Powering America’s Land’ Program Turns Landfills Into Solar Farms

Solar FlexRack

One small Utah town is encouraging investors to give their biggest eyesore a sustainability-focused facelift. The city of Spanish Fork, Utah, has announced that a 4.7-megawatt solar project has finished construction on what was previously a 27-acre landfill. This came from a collaboration between the state’s Municipal Power Agency and energy provider Prometheus Power

This is an example of a growing trend of municipalities converting old non-degradable trash centers into renewable energy sources.

While the Spanish Fork project isn’t the first of its kind in Utah, the facility boasts the largest capacity state-wide, providing enough energy to power 3,000 homes annually.

Due to state regulations that forbid penetration below the surface of the landfill, Prometheus partnered with Northern States Metals division Solar FlexRack to create an above-ground design called Cast In Place. This technology gets around the need for installing a large underground foundation by utilizing a series of wide concrete blocks for two-level support. In addition to creating 50 new local jobs, the project will also bring increased savings for local consumers, says Solar FlexRack executive vice president of sales and marketing Steve Daniel.

Image courtesy of Miroslav Gecovic

Around the country, various landfills, abandoned mines, and otherwise contaminated areas are finding a new purpose as power sources for a sustainable future. Much of this is due to government initiatives, the most prominent being the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RE-Powering America’s Land’ program

Although the EPA’s involvement in the financial side of these developments is relatively limited, the impact made by the agency is primarily information and education-based, with the EPA providing much of the research. All across the country, spots of contaminated land ripe for the deployment of adaptable solar infrastructure technologies like those at Solar FlexRack are identified. Beyond the typical mines and landfills, these lands are often types of plots listed as subject to intervention under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which can also include things like brownfields and highly polluted superfund sites. From there, information is spread through a vast network, including local and state municipalities, community leaders, industry figures, and developers. 

Image courtesy of Solar FlexRack

The program has seen initial success. A growing number – 417 projects – have been identified as currently in-progress or completed across the country, with 91 percent of the installations as solar panels and 59 percent built on old landfills.

Around half of all projects are in Massachusetts, New York, and Wyoming, and there are still plenty of inspiring stories across the United States. 

One success story is at the Apache Powder site in Arizona. The area was previously home to an explosives and chemical manufacturing facility and was identified as a superfund site needing serious intervention due to extreme pollution levels. Since then, a small dual solar and wind system has been installed, providing 1.4 kilowatts of power to the area. While 1.4 kilowatts isn’t substantial, the impact is in reducing cleanup costs – the installation lowered the estimated cleanup funding from $25 million to $2.5 million. 

In Indianapolis, the former 43-acre site of Reilly Tar & Chemical is now a 10.8-megawatt Maywood Solar Farm. Formerly a government superfund site, the project boasts a carbon reduction equivalent of over 13,000 metric tons annually. The initiative also represents an economic investment of $4 – $6 million and created 75 – 100 new jobs.

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