Old landfill sites become solar panel farms

| September 11, 2014

We frequently write about efforts to keep waste out of landfills. But what if the landfill is already full? Now what? A relatively recent trend highlights a very bright solution: installing solar panels on landfill sites.

There is very little that you can safely and practically do with an old landfill site. The combination of debris, unstable soil and potentially hazardous waste makes the land unfit for agricultural applications and any kind of construction requiring a heavy foundation.

From the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

PSE&G is turning old landfill sites into solar panel farms. From the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

That’s why, for many years, old landfill sites have either been abandoned or, popularly, turned into golf courses. (Suddenly we’re not so interested in diving for the golf ball that sailed into the water trap on the 11th hole.)

But now, “There are so many golf courses that have sprung up over the last 20 years, there isn’t a need for any more,” said Todd Hranka of Public Service Gas and Electric (PSE&G) in New Jersey.

Enter PSE&G’s solar landfill program, of which Hranka is director. Installing a solar panel “farm” takes up a lot of space, and space is one thing that old landfill sites have plenty of.

And of course, solar panels are an incredibly productive use of that space—especially since landfills might otherwise amount to nothing more than a smelly eyesore.

Ben Schiller from Fast Company‘s Co.Exist explains that, “solar panels deliver valuable energy that the [solar panel farm] owner and developer can share, with states often chipping in with incentives or favorable policy.”

Under Hranka’s direction, PSE&G is making significant investments in turning old landfill sites into solar farms. It’s not exactly a straightforward operation. For one thing, the sites need to have been closed for “20 to 30 years” so that everything has settled. They also have to be free from compliance issues (such as methane leaks). Appropriate landfill sites would have been sealed using thick clay or a manmade material, and part of PSE&G’s strategy is to never break that seal. (Even so, they carry liability insurance.)

With these restrictions in mind, PSE&G scoured 1,000 old landfill sites before settling on 22 prime candidates. They’ve already received approval for 42 megawatts worth of “solar landfills,” and they’re aiming to add 53 more megawatts by 2016. Ultimately, Hranka says that PSE&G has a “pipeline of 150 megawatts of landfills” that they intend to develop. (In case you’re curious, one megawatt is worth one million watts. So, yes, that’s a lot of energy.)

We’re big fans of environmentally friendly, clean energy—and we’d rather look at solar farms than landfills any day!

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Category: Pollution

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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