Solar Brightfields: A brighter outlook for landfills and brownfields

brownfieldArticle by Molly Rafelson, account executive, Eco Branding

As the solar market continues to mature in the Midwest, landowners and developers seek new avenues to deploy solar PV while minimizing the legal and technical barriers associated with establishing a new installation on undeveloped land. Brownfields and landfills are ideal candidates for solar development as these properties provide negligible returns for landowners and have few alternative uses.

Brownfields are described by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as former industrial or commercial properties that may have been contaminated by a hazardous substance or pollutant. It is estimated that there are over 450,000 brownfields across the United States, the majority of which require ongoing remediation and represent a significant liability for landowners.

Similarly, landfill sites, both pre-closure and post-closure, require heavy investment when attempting traditional development efforts, in order to preserve the capped area of land and maintain significant infrastructure for safety and environmental protection purposes.

The majority of brownfield sites exist in high-infrastructure areas that previously provided large-scale employment for local communities before their closure. Solar brightfields can reverse the negative effect on employment by creating new jobs that stimulate the local economy while also perpetuating future installations of renewable energy assets. These installations provide further benefits for residents by supporting community solar initiatives in both urban and rural areas. Alongside clean electricity savings, communities can take pride in the success of the system, thereby strengthening the project’s marketing presence in the region.

As an example, East St. Louis, Ill., is home to one of the Midwest’s largest brownfield solar installations. The 20MW project spans 220 acres and provides enough energy to power the homes of 4,000 local residents. The site was contaminated by a raw bauxite plant that ceased operation during the 1950s. Bauxite is a pollutant that weakens the land’s ability to bear new infrastructure without extensive engineering analysis. According to Henry Henderson, Director of the Midwest office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the fact that the project “puts clean energy into the grid is a net benefit.”

Learn more about the future of solar brightfield development during this year’s Midwest Solar Expo, taking place May 17-19, in St. Paul, MN. During the Expo, Jamie Resor, CEO of groSolar, will report on the unique development and construction challenges related to solar PV projects on or near environmentally sensitive sites in Northern climates.

The Midwest Solar Expo is offering Solar Power World’s readers a special 25% Earth Day discount on conference registration. Use the discount code “MWSE16_SPW” by 11:59pm CST on April 22, 2016. Register here!

Molly Rafelson is an Account Executive at Eco Branding, an integrated public relations and marketing agency that specializes in clean technology. Molly is also on the conference committee for the 3rd Annual Midwest Solar Expo.



  1. John Dosic says:

    Great post by Molly! I hope this spreads because Brownfields and landfills are truly ideal candidates for solar development.