News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

EPA Wants Your Feedback On Landfill Solar

Landfill solar project in Fort Collins, CO | EPA Photo

Renewable energy advocates say we need to shift our society to running on non-fossil fuels as quickly as we can to avoid climate catastrophe, and that utility-scale solar has to be part of the process. Wildlands protection activists caution that a rush to build big solar projects on public lands might harm some of the very wildlands we hope to protect from climate change. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a straightforward solution that addressed both concerns?

Well, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's been working on just that solution, and they want your feedback before the end of the month.

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For the last few years the EPA has been working on an project it calls the RE-Powering America's Land initiative, in which the agency has been taking inventory of places across the country where renewable energy installations might well be built without posing much threat to the local ecosystems. These places include "brownfield" and Superfund sites, abandoned factories, and other large tracts of land that have been developed for industry -- including landfills.

Municipal trash landfills are great places for solar power development in many ways. They tend to be located close to cities where the demand for power is. They're more or less level, which makes it easier to design an effective solar array. They often have transmission nearby. Concentrating solar facilities often use some natural gas during cold or cloudy periods to keep thermal transfer fluid warm; landfills offer a more or less carbon neutral source of biogas that could serve the same purpose. Real estate costs atop landfills are pretty minimal: who else is gonna want to use the land? And most importantly, the surface of a landfill usually has minimal wildlife habitat value that a solar installation would destroy.

And yet in July the EPA knew of only 14 U.S. solar projects on the country's more than 10,000 municipal landfills, more than 70% of which long ago stopped accepting trash. (There's only one in California, at Camp Pendleton.)

That's partly because building on landfills has its own set of unique hazards and complications, from subsidence to potential exposure to hazardous materials. So in order to promote the safe development of closed landfills as locations for solar facilities, the EPA has released a set of draft guidelines for PV installation on landfills, entitled -- straightforwardly enough -- "Best Practices for Siting Solar Photovoltaics
on Municipal Solid Waste Landfills
."

The agency is intent enough on soliciting public comment on the draft guidelines that they've extended the comment period multiple times, most recently knocking it back from October 15 to October 31. If you're a solar wonk with an eye toward reusing already-degraded lands, or a desert lover who wants to promote positive alternatives, or if you live near a landfill and want to make sure your concerns about your neighborhood reach the EPA, now's your chance to check out the draft guidelines and then email your comments or concerns to cleanenergy@epa.gov.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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