A Bright Future For Landfill Solar — Yes, Landfill Solar

Courtesy of RMI.
Written by Matthew Popkin and Akshay Krishnan

The new RMI report, The future of landfills is bright, It shows how governments can take advantage of closed landfills to provide clean energy, jobs, and more to communities.

Some cities, counties, and states across America are beginning to convert closed landfills into solar sites to generate clean energy and transform their communities. A new report from RMI reveals that the potential of this practice is relatively untapped and could help boost the energy transition across the country.

There are more than 10,000 closed landfills in the United States. The future of landfills is bright It is estimated that 4,312 of these sites alone—those for which sufficient data are available—could host at least 63 gigawatts of solar capacity, or the equivalent of 70% of all US solar installed capacity through 2020. If this potential is realized In full, solar power installations in landfills can produce 83 TWh of clean electricity per year — enough to power 7.8 million homes.

“When I look at a closed landfill, I don’t see an old waste site, I see an opportunity for creative use of the land,” said Matthew Popkin, Director of RMI’s Urban Transformation Team and co-author of the report. “Using closed landfills to passively generate clean electricity may be a better and better use. Communities can reinvent these sites with limited reuse potential to advance a clean energy future – and the benefits don’t stop there.”

In addition to power generation, the RMI analysis also examines other benefits that landfill solar energy can provide to communities. By reallocating closed landfills to sustainable, non-hazardous uses, local and state governments can promote environmental justice by creating jobs and help revitalize low-income communities where many closed landfills are located.

Currently, landfill solar projects are geographically concentrated in the northeastern United States, with approximately 75% of operational projects located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. But landfills are everywhere and there is ample opportunity for cities, counties and states across the country to expand adoption of this practice and bring multiple benefits to their communities.

For example, the historically neglected, predominantly black neighborhood of Sunnyside will soon become home to the largest landfill solar facility in the country. A project announced in early 2021 is transforming a 240-acre site that has negatively impacted the community for more than 80 years into a 52-megawatt solar farm. Once operational, in late 2022 or early 2023, the site will generate enough clean electricity to power 5,000 homes and offset 120 million pounds of carbon dioxide.2 every year.

The future of landfills is bright It shows how state and local governments can stimulate landfill solar development by building on past policies, incentives and best practices from governments that have led the way in landfill solar development.

Featured image courtesy of The future of landfills is bright.

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