Climate

Abandoned California Oil And Gas Field Will Soon Be A Solar Farm

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An abandoned oil and gas field in California will soon be home to a large solar plant, thanks to a partnership between Google and SunEdison.

The Regulus solar power plant will be the largest solar project completed by SunEdison in North America. Construction started on the plant in December and is scheduled to be completed and begin operation later this year. Google contributed $145 million to the project, which when completed will span 737 acres and produce 82 megawatts of energy — enough to power 10,000 homes.

“We believe the world needs a wide range of clean energy technologies, each serving different needs,” Nick Coons, renewable energy principal at Google, said in a statement. “This project with SunEdison presented an opportunity to take an old gas and oil field and turn it into a clean energy producing solar site. It made sense to support it on multiple levels.”

There are multiple benefits of developing solar projects on brownfields like the abandoned oil and gas field in California. As Greentech Media pointed out last year, brownfield development often avoids arguments about how to best use land resources, arguments that are particularly common when energy projects are proposed on public lands. Since the brownfield site is already contaminated, and since it’s likely already cleared of trees, it makes an ideal place for a renewable energy project: few if any trees have to be cut down to make room for the project, and the contaminated site ends up being turned into a productive area. Brownfield-to-solar projects in New Jersey, Greentech Media notes, “appear to please everybody,” and have been quickly granted permits, since the environmental review process for a brownfield isn’t as in-depth as it is for a forest or other natural, uncontaminated region.

According to the EPA, there are more than 11,000 contaminated or abandoned mine sites that could be used to produce solar, wind, biomass, or geothermal energy in the United States. A Michigan-based study from 2009 found that if Michigan developed its brownfields into solar and wind farms, it could generate 5,855 megawatts of power.

Landfills, too, have succeeded as productive sites for solar projects. A 48-acre landfill in Dekalb County, Georgia was turned into a solar field a few years ago, with the installation of 7,000 flexible solar panels, and solar farms have also been installed on landfills in New York, New Jersey, Texas, California, and Massachusetts. Landfills’ elevation and clear, treeless terrain makes them well-suited for solar projects, and the methane they emit can also be captured and used. As of 2012, there were about 10,000 landfills in the U.S. that had reached capacity, making them possible candidates for solar farms.

The Regulus solar project is being made possible in part by a sizable contribution by Google, which has pledged to contribute $1.5 billion to renewable energy investments. The Regulus plant is Google’s 17th renewable energy investment. Despite its contributions to renewable energy, however, the tech giant has been criticized recently because of its ties to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying group that has attempted to block renewable energy development at the state level.