Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Closed landfills may be suitable for wind, solar farms

Revenue generators …

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

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

One reason is that 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 power rates in the world.

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 5 cents per kilowatt hour, but the average cost of developing new renewable-energy power plants is now usually below 10 cents per kWh.

Wind has been the primary focus of new renewable investments in Washington. However, 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 online.

In the past, land costs for wind and solar has been a disadvantage, but that also 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington has more than 60 landfills, 40 of which 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 could 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 revenue 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 also is 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.

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

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

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and retired president of the Association of Washington Business. He now lives in Vancouver, Washington, and can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


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