Massive US Solar Project Takes Advantage of Toxic Waste Dump


By Jonny Wakefield

April 17, 2014

Got a toxic waste dump lying around? Why not turn it into a solar farm?

A barren, blighted former industrial site in Indiana is getting a second life as a cutting-edge solar farm, Clean Technica reports. The project is the first of its kind.

The photovoltaics company Hanwha Q-Cells recently opened a 10.86 MW solar farm on the site former site of Reilly Tar & Chemical Corporation's Indianapolis plant. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the site is severely contaminated after years as a coal-tar refining and wood treatment facility

The EPA has declared the 120-acre property has been declared a Superfund site — the government's designation for sites needing hazardous materials clean up. Hanwha Q-Cells says the site is the first large scale solar facility ever developed on a former toxic waste site. 

The company used special construction techniques to avoid further disturbing contaminated soil or exposing groundwater to toxins. But despite that initial cleanup work, completed in 2010, the site has sat empty for years in part because large scale excavation of contaminated soil and groundwater cleanup is prohibitively expensive for private firms. The lot was last used as a chemical factory in 1972. 

According to a release, Hanwha Q-Cells was able to bring the project in under budget without government subsidy. 

That's especially significant in light of a new EPA report which indicates more than 14 million acres of Superfund land could be viable for similar solar development.  

Such sites could prove attractive to solar developers in part because they are inexpensive and guaranteed clean up by the U.S. government. 

But while it's tempting contrast clean power from the sun with toxic waste sites, critics of solar power have pointed out that producing photovoltaic cells creates its own toxic waste. A analysis of California's solar power industry determined that manufacturing solar cells produced "46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011," according to the Financial Post.