A Bright Future For Landfill Solar — Yes, Landfill Solar

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A Bright Future For Landfill Solar — Yes, Landfill Solar

Lent by RMI.
By Matthew Popkin & Akshay Krishnan

RMI’s new report, The future of landfills is bright, outlines how governments can leverage closed landfills to bring clean energy, jobs and more to local communities.

Some cities, counties, and states throughout America have begun converting enclosed landfills into photovoltaic plants to generate clean energy and transform their communities. A new RMI report reveals that the potential for this practice is relatively untapped and may help boost energy conversion around the country.

There are over 10,000 closed landfills in the United States. The future of landfills is bright estimates that 4,312 of these sites alone – those for which sufficient data are available – could host at least 63 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity, or the equivalent of 70% of the total installed solar energy capacity in the United States by 2020. If this potential was fully realized, landfill solar power plants could produce 83 terawatt-hours (TWh) of clean electricity annually – enough to power 7.8 million homes.

“When I look at an enclosed landfill, I do not see an old landfill, I see an opportunity for creative land use,” said Matthew Popkin, leader of RMI’s Urban Transformation team and report co-author. “Using closed landfills to passively generate clean electricity may be their highest and best use. Communities can reinvent these sites with limited recycling potential to advance their future for clean energy – and the benefits do not stop there.”

In addition to energy production, RMI’s analysis also examines other benefits that landfill solar energy can bring to society. By reusing enclosed landfills for sustainable, non-hazardous uses, state and local governments can promote environmental justice by creating jobs and helping to revitalize the lower-income communities where many enclosed landfills are located.

Currently, landfill solar projects are geographically concentrated in the northeastern United States, with nearly 75% of operating projects located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. But landfills are everywhere, and there is a significant opportunity for cities, counties and states around the country to expand the takeover of this practice and generate more benefits for their communities.

For example, the historically neglected, majority-Black Houston neighborhood of Sunnyside will soon be home to the largest landfill solar installation in the country. A project announced in early 2021 converts a 240-hectare site that has negatively impacted society for over 80 years into a 52-megawatt solar farm. When operational, in late 2022 or early 2023, the site will generate enough clean electricity to power 5,000 homes and compensate for 120 million pounds of CO22 annual.

The future of landfills is bright outlines how states and local governments can accelerate the development of landfills in landfills by building on past policies, incentives and best practices from governments that have taken the lead in developing landfills in landfills.

Selected image courtesy of The future of landfills is bright.

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