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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Don C. Brunell: Closed landfills may house solar farms

By Don C. Brunell

Solar power is getting a lot of attention these days as our country strives to reduce greenhouse gases.

Sunny cities like Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Antonio have ramped up solar power production; however, in cloudy coastal municipalities such as Seattle, investments in “sun power” have been lagging.

One reason is Washington is blessed with an abundance of low-cost and carbon-free hydropower which accounts for three-fourths of our electricity generation.

Electricity from the Columbia River system provides families, businesses, industries and public customers with some of the lowest electric rates in the world. Meanwhile, ratepayers in Hawaii have electric bills which are eight times higher than ours.

The cost for electricity from other renewables is dropping.

According to Forbes, “hydroelectric power is the cheapest source of renewable energy, at an average of $0.05 per kilowatt hour (kWh), but the average cost of developing new power plants based on onshore wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), biomass or geothermal energy is now usually below $0.10/kWh.”

Wind has been the primary focus of new renewable investments in Washington, particularly along the Columbia River east and north of Goldendale. The intermittent nature and the vast amount of land required for wind and solar have been problems.

That is changing as well.

Lots of investments are going into new battery storage technology which benefits wind and solar. New utility-grade lithium storage batteries are coming on line. Tesla is one of the companies developing those batteries, which can store electricity when the wind blows and the sun shines.

In the past, land costs for wind and solar has been a disadvantage, but that is changing.

“Solar panel installations have been one of the fastest-growing types of energy infrastructure in recent years and landfills have become fitting sites due to the sheer amount of land required,” WasteDive’s Matthew Bandyk wrote in his May 26 post.

According to the EPA, Washington has more than 60 landfills, of which 40 are closed. They are packed with our trash and many of them are largely unproductive ground.

Closed landfills could be outfitted with banks of solar panels to create electricity and utility-grade batteries would be added to store it. The panels would charge batteries when the sun is shining, and then dispatch that energy at night or in cloudy weather.

The added benefit is the money from the sale of electricity could generate revenues for municipal governments which own most of those abandoned dumps. Funds could offset maintenance expenses used to control leaching contaminated water and escaping methane gases.

In our state, where replacing greenhouse gas producing power plants is a priority, solar generation is also getting more attention. If old landfills were available for solar projects, it may increase their viability.

New Jersey’s largest utility coupled 1,764 solar panels to generate power with 2,000-Tesla batteries to store it and reduce power fluctuations. The project sits on top of a closed municipal landfill.

“Developing this solar storage project on a closed landfill allow us to take space that was otherwise (idle) and return it to a productive role,” Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) spokesperson Fran Sullivan told WasteDive. The company is looking to expand to other closed landfills and generate enough electricity for 1.6 million homes (2,000 megawatts) by 2030,

As Washington’s population grows, the demand for electricity increases as well. Power planners also need look to replace a large load from the Centralia coal-fired power plant which is scheduled to shut down completely in 2025.

The bottom line is our electric supply system will change and, we hope, can include solar generation atop barren unproductive garbage dumps in our strategy.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at

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