June 21, 2022

Transforming your Closed Landfill in a “Power”ful way

Posted on June 21, 2022 by Heidi B. (Goldstein) Friedman

Less than two weeks ago,  EPA released an updated version of their “RE-Powering Mapper” tool – How to Identify Sites | US EPA – EPA’s Re-Powering Mapper Tool provides information on over 190,000 contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites that have the potential to support solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal renewable energy options. The tool is easy and simple to use and includes data collected from state and federal sources.  Plus, it can be sorta fun (for an environmental lawyer) – don’t be intimidated by the map with a zillion orange dots!

Pairing renewable projects with landfills is a true opportunity for industry and government to partner for the common good.  The term used for these transformative projects is “brightfields.” According to RMI, an organization that advances clean energy projects, last year local governments across the U.S. launched 207 megawatts of energy from 21 landfill solar projects compared to just 21 total megawatts of energy from all such similar projects the year before. Based on a late 2021 RMI brightfield analysis, The Future of Landfills is Bright,  closed landfills could host more than 60 gigawatts of solar capacity—enough energy to power the entire state of South Carolina!

One of the more successful projects is close to home for me and the center of my OSU Buckeye love – Columbus, Ohio.  A brightfield deal there will generate 50 megawatts of energy at Franklin County’s former sanitary landfill, and power about 5,000 homes.  For that project, Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio entered into an agreement with BQ Energy Development, LLC, to lease the approximately 173-acre property that once served as the landfill to design, build, operate and maintain a solar facility.  AEP and the City of Columbus announced last year that they have agreed to purchase all of the electricity from the solar farm. 

If this sounds exciting to you, I refer you back to EPA’s handy new tool for starters.  Once a user locates and selects their facility, a variety of different reports and statistics are generated in a dialogue box. In addition to information such as site name, EPA Region, acreage, and Site ID, the tool also provides information on the following:

  • Solar -> the availability for small and large-scale solar projects and the distance to transmission, depending on the project size.
  • Wind -> the availability for small and large-scale wind projects, including average wind speeds at the site.
  • Biomass -> the biomass potential within 50 miles of the site.
  • Geothermal -> the near-surface temperature at the site.

The tool also provides the opportunity to generate an environmental justice screening report through EPA’s EJScreen Tool. EJScreen is another useful EPA tool that allows facilities and other sites to see if they are located within a community that may require environmental justice considerations based on percentiles, to state, regional, and nationwide “EJ Indexes.” These indexes take various environmental factors (ex: ozone, PM, Superfund, etc.) and combine them with demographic data to summarize how those indicators impact a particular location.  All of this data can help us identify the best contaminated sites, understand the surrounding area and conduct the necessary initial analysis a renewable developer may need to start the “powerful” conversion of these historical sites to sources of energy powering many of us into the future.