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Closed landfills could have new life as solar energy sources

Closed landfills could have new life as solar energy sources

Recent data released by World Resources Institute and the Resource Management Institute (RMI) has found that local governments across the United States harvested significant amounts of energy from solar plants built in closed landfills last year. The report found a total of 21 landfills that had been utilized to generate 207 megawatts of solar power. This shows a 10-fold increase in energy produced from such lands in recent years.

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According to an RMI brightfield report, there is a huge potential to increase this output on a national scale. The available closed landfills could produce up to 60 gigawatts of solar power—enough energy to cater to all the power needs of South Carolina.

Related: Former landfill reborn as beautiful park and wildlife habitat

This surge in power generation feeds a growing interest among local governments to produce clean energy. Traditionally, landfills have been left unattended to, mostly locked out since they become inhabitable. Although green vegetation may grow on the fields, they are mostly classified as brownfields environmentally. There are situations where such areas have been converted into golf courses. However, even such a move does not in any way support environmental recovery, as compared to solar power generation.

With solar power generation, landfills can easily be converted into purposeful places. The reason why solar panels work well with such lands is that there is no need for further investment in terms of land development for solar. Further, most landfills are established close to access roads and electricity supply lines. As a result, tapping solar power from such facilities can be easier.

Among the notable recent projects is one Brightfield deal in Columbus, Ohio, which will generate up to 50 megawatts of energy once completed. A similar project was also announced in January 2021 to be developed on a 240-acre piece of land in Houston, Texas.

“There’s more due diligence, there’s more design and engineering, and people’s time that has to go into sufficiently planning this,” says Matthew Popkin, an urban transformation manager at RMI. “If you put a stake in the grass in a random field poorly, the dirt might suffer. If you put a stake in a landfill poorly, the community might suffer.” 

While repurposing closed landfills is not something new, most of the other adopted uses are quite costly and risky. Previously, landfills have been converted into parks for wild animals, but has always come at a cost. Apart from the heavy investment in making a park for wildlife, there are also health risks from the landfills to the animals. Solar offers a much better and more viable solution that should be considered at a federal level.

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