Green Mountain Power may not be the best name for a power developer that covers a large area with black solar cells. Just the same, residents of Rutland, Vermont are glad that the solar developer has come to break ground in their town. The company is putting up a 2MW photovoltaic array on what was their former 9.5 acre (3.8 hectare) solid waste landfill.
There are a whole lot of sanitary landfills that have been closed – estimated at around 10,000. Because the land is unstable and contaminated, that’s a whole lot of unusable land. However, most of this land already has access roads that would make them ideal for development. It also helps that a lot of them have access to the grid, which in the past provided lighting for dumping at night. The serendipity at which all these factors converged like flies to, well you know, is why the idea of converting them into solar farms is catching on. And that idea is starting to smell of success.
Massachusetts, in particular, has been doing this on a huge scale, with 78 MW of solar power on former landfills. They achieved this by providing incentives to improve the economics of solar development on former dump sites. The costs of putting solar array racks on landfills is more expensive than on other sites. Landfills need to get “capped” – that is it gets covered with a geomembrane so that harmful elements from the decomposing trash doesn’t escape into the atmosphere. This geomembrane is covered with sand and then vegetation to complete the cap. It comes without saying that the cap shouldn’t be punctured, hence the racks of the solar array to be installed over them should be specially designed, adding 25 cents per watt to the system price.
Borrego Solar, which has been active in converting former dumpsites in Massachusetts into solar power plants is lobbying in New York so that the same incentives can be put in place there. This is to accelerate the development of Staten Island, the world’s largest landfill at 2,200 acres (1,000 hectares), into a 10MW solar farm.
Just the same, other States are following the trend. Vermont is building a 2.7MW on the buffer zone of the Coventry landfill, which is still being used. Another is planned in Rutland, Vermont and will include 4MW of battery storage that not only acts to shave peak power demand, but also provides emergency power to a nearby emergency shelter, the Rutland High School.
The Garden State also approved a proposal to convert 800 of its closed dump sites into solar power plants.
Although states in the Northeast is where most of the action is happening, there is so much more potential elsewhere. Based on a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there are 15 million acres ( 6.8 million hectares) of dump sites across the US that can be used. To accelerate development, the US Environmental Protection Agency has pre-identified 1,600 former dump sites for solar development.
Hopefully other states will come on board and sweeten the offer for solar developers. When that happens, mounds of brown trash will be replaced by mountains of green solar power.