A Polluted Superfund Site Is Now Home To 36,000 Solar Panels

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"A Polluted Superfund Site Is Now Home To 36,000 Solar Panels"

Sunlight streams onto the Maywood Solar Farm in Indianapolis on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

Sunlight streams onto the Maywood Solar Farm in Indianapolis on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Callahan

A 43-acre solar farm is now generating power at a Superfund site in Indiana, making it the nation’s largest solar farm built on a Superfund site.

The Maywood Solar Farm, which is made up of 36,000 solar panels, started producing power last month. It’s one of 85 renewable energy projects that the EPA has helped install on Superfund sites, landfills and old mining sites in the U.S., projects which together produce 507 megawatts of power. The solar farm is located on the site of a former coal tar refinery plant, which dealt with hazardous chemicals until its closing in 1972. In the 1980s officials found that the groundwater underneath the site was contaminated with benzene and ammonia, and afterwards the area was designated as a Superfund site.

“This innovative solar project demonstrates that Superfund sites can be redeveloped,” EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman said in a statement. “The Maywood Solar Farm project has transformed a site with a long history of contamination into a source of renewable energy.”

The solar farm was created as part of the EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Program, which aims to re-purpose polluted sites into parks or areas that can support renewable energy. The agency has done this sort of thing before — in 2009, it helped turn the site of a former ammunition plant in Texas into an area that’s now part of a wildlife refuge. It also led an effort that turned a former Apache Nitrogen Products site into a wetlands system that has treated the ground water underneath the site to remove the lingering nitrogen, a project that has utilized solar and wind energy to help power the water circulation. The EPA also spearheaded a project similar to the Maywood farm, which turned a Superfund site near Sacramento, CA into a 40-acre solar farm.

The EPA isn’t the only entity working toward redeveloping polluted land, however. Some cities and states are also turning toward another sort of reclaimed land for renewable energy development: landfills. A large landfill outside of Atlanta, Georgia is home to 10 acres of solar panels as well as underground gas pumps that collect the methane that the landfill emits. The city of Atlanta is looking to do the same thing with its landfills, a North Carolina city will soon install 6,000 panels on one of its landfills, and Massachusetts already has 16 renewable energy landfill projects.

“When a landfill is (finished with) taking waste, it basically is dormant and there’s not a lot of uses for the property,” David Stuart, an environmental manager of landfill owners told CNN in 2011. “But its natural attributes — being a tall structure, out of the shadows of the tree line — gives it a unique advantage as a solar project.”

And solar isn’t the only form of energy that’s been implemented on former polluted sites or other reclaimed land. In 2000, the Tennessee Valley Authority built three wind turbines on a former strip mine, a project which grew to 18 turbines in 2004. A similar project was implemented on former mining land in Pennsylvania, an area that made for a practical choice for a wind project due to the fact that roads and power lines were already in place, remnants of the region’s former mining days.

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