EPA & CA Seek to Plant Solar on Superfund Sites

By Published On: August 8, 2013

Three contaminated sites in California were identified as suitable for photovoltaic solar energy development under a federal-state partnership. The sites, all in Pacific Gas & Electric territory, are the former Army base at Fort Ord in Marina, a former dump in Brisbane along the San Francisco Bay and a closed landfill in Salinas. Photovoltaics “can provide a viable, beneficial reuse option, in many cases, generating significant revenue on a site that would otherwise go unused,” according to the National Renewable Energy Lab. The sites in Salinas and Brisbane also could include landfill gas projects. The Department of Energy’s NREL recently finished studying the trio of sites, assessing the physical and financial feasibility of building ground-mounted solar arrays and tapping into landfill gas as part the of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s partnership with California and other states. This 2013 “RE-Powering Initiative” seeks to transform “liabilities into assets for surrounding communities,” EPA stated Aug. 5. The initiative specifically promotes renewable development on thousands of Superfund sites and other contaminated areas across the nation. To date, 200 MW of installed capacity from 70 projects have been completed. The success of renewable energy developments on the three state sites hinges largely on the ability of the project owners to get higher electricity rates under net metering for power sent back to the grid, as well as state solar subsidies, according to NREL. Where net metering wouldn’t apply because the projects exceed the 1 MW limit, the economic feasibility of the renewable developments depends on federal and state tax credits and subsidies under the California Solar Initiative. At the former Fort Ord site, 493 acres appear suitable for photovoltaic development and able to produce 100 percent of the area’s energy demand, according to NREL. The former base “could generate approximately 125,713 MWh annually and represent the full amount of current power consumption for the area,” states the NREL feasibility study. At the Crazy Horse landfill in Salinas, a 3.5 MW solar system on up to 25 acres appears feasible, as does a 3.2 MW landfill gas project. A solar project at the site could produce up to 5.2 million kWh, well above the 364,000 kWh of power used on site. At the 132-acre former municipal landfill in Brisbane, which also was a former Southern Pacific rail yard, almost 25 acres is deemed suitable for PV development under one option. It could produce 45,000 MWh annually, NREL concluded. The second option considered up to 134 acres suitable for a solar project. The size of a possible solar project was not included in this option. According to the national lab, photovoltaic systems on landfill sites have been successful at other Environmental Protection Agency remediated areas, including a 2 MW plant at Fort Carson, Colorado. That facility uses thin-film photovoltaic modules on 15 acres of a decommissioned landfill. Also, the Hickory Ridge Landfill near Atlanta, Georgia, uses an integrated thin-film photovoltaic landfill cap to make 1 MW. Since the inception of the RE-Powering program, more than 70 renewable projects have been installed on contaminated lands or landfills. The agency’s initiative recently expanded to include 60,000 possible reusable sites, with 10,000 of them appearing suitable for solar development of 300 kW or greater. “[T]hese sites could cumulatively host solar energy systems that capture greater than 30 times more solar energy than all renewable energy systems operating in the United States today,” according to the federal agency.

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