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The Smartest Place To Build Solar Farms? Toxic Superfund Sites

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The largest solar farm in the U.S. finally got cooking this year, but not without reports of singed wildlife and displaced tortoises. It turns out that both thermal solar farms and other types of solar plants can harm the environment in unforeseen ways. But what if we limited these farms to areas where no plants flourished or endangered animals roamed? Like, say, Superfund sites?

That's exactly what's happening in Indianapolis this month at Reilly Tar & Chemical Corporation, a 60-year-old coal-tar refinery that's been under remediation for 20 years. There, a group of energy companies have built a 43-acre solar farm atop the Superfund site—a first for the US.


At the Reilly site, now renamed the Maywood Solar Farm, a Korean and German solar power company called Hanwha Q CELLS has installed enough photovoltaics to annually reduce carbon emissions "equal to the annual carbon emissions of more than 2,700 passenger cars or 1,800 Indiana residential homes." All in all, it adds up to 10.86 MW, which is nothing to sneeze at as far as solar farming goes.

Still, Maywood is far from the largest solar farm in the country—but it's important for other reasons. One major hurdle standing in the way of solar farming is the fact that companies have to build not only the farm, but the infrastructure needed to transport the energy back to cities. As Scientific American explained last year, "high-voltage lines can cost millions of dollars per mile," which makes choosing a site for a solar plant a balancing act between property prices and infrastructure costs.


Superfund sites in the US, via.

Superfund sites, on the other hand, are usually located on the outskirts of major cities—and hundreds of them are simply waiting to be redeveloped. According to Cleantechnica, the EPA recently ran the numbers on the idea of putting solar farms atop more fund sites, and concluded that there 14 million acres of Superfund land that could host similar plants.

Of course, there are plenty of potential pitfalls to the concept—in particular, the troubling reports of pilots being blinded by the rays from solar plants like Ivanpah, which sounds like an even more terrifying scenario when it's over a dense city like NYC.

But as a commenter points out, farms like Maywood don't suffer from the same problem since it uses photovoltaic panels, rather than a solar thermal plant. So as far as finding enough space to let solar power flourish in the US, it's hard to come up with a more perfect plan than this one. [Cleantechnica]