Across the United States, landfill solar projects have become more popular to give a new purpose to closed landfills. Although they may appear green, these locations are referred to as "brownfields," indicating their environmentally hazardous nature with limited potential for future use.
Landfills, due to contaminated and physically unstable subsurface contents, are generally unsuitable for development. However, there is potential for repurposing them into solar farms, giving rise to what are known as "brightfields," a trend that is steadily increasing in both quantity and scale.
Local Governments Taking on Energy Projects on Landfills
Recent data from the World Resources Institute and RMI, an organization dedicated to advancing clean energy initiatives, reveals that local governments throughout the United States have unveiled a collective energy output of 207 megawatts through 21 landfill solar projects. This marks a tenfold increase in energy capacity compared to previous years and encompasses the three largest projects in the country to date.
This upswing underscores a growing enthusiasm among municipalities to embark on increasingly ambitious clean energy endeavors. For instance, a notable brightfield agreement in Columbus, Ohio, declared in September of 2022, is set to generate 50 megawatts of energy.
Another project of comparable capacity, disclosed in January 2021, is underway on a 240-acre landfill site in Houston, Texas. Together, these two projects constitute half of the brightfield energy announced in the preceding year, each capable of annually powering approximately 5,000 homes.
Clean Power Developing on U.S. Landfills
The EPA has monitored the completion of at least two dozen additional solar landfill projects throughout the United States, with several others either currently under construction or in the planning stages. As of the conclusion of 2022, solar landfills collectively possess a capacity of approximately 2.4 gigawatts (GW), sufficient to provide power for an estimated 500,000 homes. According to RMI's projections, the existing landfills could potentially increase this capacity by at least 25 times.
Closed landfills, often under the ownership of local governments, present an appealing option for solar developments, particularly in the face of growing opposition to traditional solar projects in neighborhoods. Additionally, landfills typically enjoy increased sun exposure and proximity to power lines and existing infrastructure.
However, installing solar modules on these sites requires a distinct approach: a ballasted system that avoids deep foundation penetration, preventing disturbance to the landfill cap and the underlying waste. Monitoring settlement patterns on the site is crucial to ensure the panels remain properly aligned. Depending on the location, building on a landfill may entail navigating additional permitting complexities and obtaining approval from multiple agencies. This can result in longer timelines and higher costs compared to greenfield sites, such as farms.
While the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provides incentives for all solar installations, it extends additional tax credits specifically for projects on brownfields and for renewable energy initiatives benefiting low-income communities.
For states, counties, or cities looking for land to hold renewable energy projects that don't use suitable land, turning to retired landfill usage is a great option. Many landfills have more than enough acreage for solar farm development to take place and produce a good amount of energy. Properly capped, decommissioned landfills can be a good site for solar energy and repurposed. Contact LandGate to evaluate closed landfills in your community and determine green energy potential.