Turning Trash into Treasure – CleanTechnica

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Turning Trash into Treasure - CleanTechnica

Lent by RMI.
By Laurie Stone & Matthew Popkin

In 1937, a landfill was built in most of the Black Houston neighborhood of Sunnyside. The residents of that community have been paying the price ever since. From “flies, cockroaches, rats and smells” to the death of an 11-year-old boy, the Sunnyside landfill has negatively impacted the quality of life for the community for more than 80 years. The landfill closed in 1974 due to the detection of lethal levels of lead, but the health and environmental effects live on. Or so they did until now.

The 240-hectare landfill will soon be a 52 megawatt (MW) solar farm, the largest landfill solar installation and the second largest brownfield solar plant in the country. In fact, there are more than 10,000 closed and inactive landfills around the United States that offer similar options. These landfills have limited recycling potential because they house years of waste. Therefore, installing solar energy on them allows states and municipalities to promote local solar energy while reusing these large, vacant spaces on the surface that degrade the local community.

A new RMI report, The future of landfills is bright, found that closed landfills across the United States could host an estimated 63 gigawatt (GW) of solar capacity, enough to power 7.8 million U.S. homes or the entire state of South Carolina.

From Brownfields to Brightfields

Among brownfield sites, enclosed landfills are often ideal locations for solar energy. First, although some enclosed landfills have been converted into open areas or golf courses, most lack any future planned use once closed. This is due in part to the potentially hazardous materials found at these sites and the presence of gas wells for landfills, both of which limit soil penetration into – and therefore the development of – schools, shopping and housing. Installation of solar energy in landfills thus avoids land use conflicts with other economic, agricultural, residential or recreational activities. In fact, in Texas alone, there are more than 94,000 acres of enclosed landfills that could generate an estimated 27 GW of electricity.

According to Paul Curran, CEO of BQ Energy Development and co-developer of the Sunnyside project, “electricity is generated most efficiently near where it will be used … and virtually every community in the United States has an old, closed landfill. This land can and should not be used for other public purposes, but it often represents a unique resource for generating clean energy. “

Landfills also often have some shade and already have connections to electrical infrastructure and roads due to their previous use. In addition, federal and state programs provide subsidies and other incentives to assess the site, clean up, and recycle landfills, helping to reduce the additional upfront costs that can come with less than untouched land. But perhaps most importantly, putting solar energy in landfills is helping to promote environmental justice, especially in communities where local leaders deliberately placed landfills near non-white communities or pushed neighborhoods with lower incomes toward waste collection sites.

A bright spot for the revitalization of communities

Throughout the United States, landfills have often been located in color communities. After protests erupted in 1982 in a predominantly black community in Warren County, North Carolina, over a proposed landfill for hazardous waste, the U.S. Department of Energy found links between race, poverty, and waste placement decisions. A study found that “three out of five African Americans and Hispanics live in a community that houses places with toxic waste.”

The Sunnyside landfill is located in a census that is far less white and far less affluent than the city and state on average (a non-white population of nearly 98 percent compared to just over 75 percent in the city). The neighborhood has an average household income of only 59 percent of the city average and 51 percent of the Texas average.

“The Sunnyside landfill has weighed down the neighborhood and hampered the community from growth and opportunities,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “It is our duty and responsibility to look at neighborhoods that have historically been understaffed and find ways to lift these communities up. In Sunnyside, this means transforming a former landfill into a facility that will generate clean, renewable electricity to run housing, reduce emissions and create green jobs. “

Therefore, the proposal to turn it into a solar cell farm with other common facilities could be a game changer. “This former landfill in Sunnyside, more than most, really benefits from this solar farm … and the developers are committed to maintaining the site throughout the life of the project,” said Dori Wolfe, founder and owner of Wolfe Energy, another co. -developer of the project. “The Sunnyside solar farm will be a good neighbor to the community.”

The proposal now includes up to 50 MW of solar-powered energy, 2 MW of community solar, battery storage and an agricultural hub and fitness center, all combined with plans to hire locally and create partnerships with the community. Houston’s project continues to evolve, and the city has since approved the lease and selected a development team to design and build the project.

This will greatly revitalize the community. Landfill recycling brings temporary construction jobs and permanent operation and maintenance jobs to underutilized sites. This not only increases the local economy but also provides a benefit to local businesses that support these employees. The Sunnyside project is expected to generate 600 jobs. And our research shows that installing solar energy at all 2,134 closed landfills in Texas would generate more than 300,000 jobs.

Community members in Sunnyside are excited about the project. “My family has been calling Sunnyside home for generations, and I’m blessed to continue the work my father began to build this community,” said Rodney Jones, president of Sunnyside TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) 26. “It The fact that the largest urban solar farm in the country is in Sunnyside speaks volumes about the way our assets are now understood by institutions and investors across the board, and we hope this becomes an example of historically underserved communities becoming solutions for sustainability. “

How to ensure a bright future for landfills

IN The future of landfills is bright, we describe how states and local governments can encourage landfill solar energy through policies and incentives. We include experiences from governments that have tested and refined their policies, incentive structures, and best practices over the past decade. Our results, analyzes and research should provide clarity and direction to elected officials, policy makers, planners, developers and local communities on how landfill solar energy can be part of a broader strategy for clean energy and land use to achieve ambitious Community-wide sustainability and environment. justice goals.

As with Houston’s Sunnyside project, installing solar energy in landfills can catalyze local sustainable production, job growth and community revitalization without sacrificing existing green spaces or parks. Scaling this to the more than 10,000 closed and inactive landfills around the country is a win-win for both society and climate. According to Curran, “the potential for secure replication of this concept is enormous.”

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