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Turning Trash into Solar Treasure

By generating solar energy on old landfills and brownfields, PSE&G is helping to put historically ‘dirty’ spaces back to work in an environmentally friendly manner.

landfill
Credit: PSE&G

Solar energy’s value to the environment is undeniable. Sunlight is a free, abundant resource and, unlike other energy sources, produces zero harmful greenhouse gases when it’s converted to electricity.

But while sunlight is unlimited, the land required to produce solar energy is not.

To replace all of the power generated in New Jersey today, we would need more than 200 million solar panels covering nearly 400,000 acres. Replacing even a small percentage of New Jersey’s energy supply with solar would require a significant amount of land.

Where do we put all those solar panels? Farms? Forests? Those locations have environmental value, too — as water supplies, as wildlife habitats, and as hosts to plant life that already plays a significant role in filtering carbon and other climate-change gases out of the air we breathe.

Across the United States, there is a growing understanding that we should not trade one environmental good for another. If we install solar panels for the good of the environment, but sacrifice forests, farmland, or other open spaces to do it, what have we actually gained?

Preservation of land is just one of the reasons that PSE&G’s Solar 4 All program targets New Jersey’s neglected spaces — old landfills and contaminated industrial sites — to construct universal, grid-connected solar-generating stations. Over the past seven years, PSE&G has invested $550 million in the program, including 45 megawatts worth of grid-connected solar farms on old landfills and brownfields.

pseg-before-and-after
Credit: PSE&G

Converting neglected sites for the generation of electricity is one benefit of PSE&G’s solar strategy. It’s also a key part of Gov. Chris Christie’s Energy Master Plan. We’re proud that, together, PSE&G and New Jersey are leading one of the largest solar-energy efforts of its kind in the United States.

And we’re not alone.

In California, more than 100 megawatts of solar farms have been built on old landfills, industrial properties, federal Superfund sites — and even a mothballed weapons test site — according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Massachusetts, dozens of old municipal landfills and brownfields now host nearly 131 megawatts of solar power.

And it’s not just solar. In Wyoming, a $500 million, 237-megawatt wind-power project was built on a depleted surface coal mine.

Here in New Jersey, PSE&G has installed more than 150,000 solar panels at eight solar farms and, in the process, returned 170 acres of landfills and brownfields to productive use. And now we have identified dozens more that are prime candidates for new universal solar-energy systems.

That’s why we have filed a proposal with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to permit another 100 megawatts worth of solar projects on the state’s forgotten spaces — projects that, if approved, would nearly triple the size of our Solar 4 All landfill and brownfield effort.

When PSE&G uses an old factory or landfill to produce solar power, we’re putting land back to work for the good of the environment and the climate. Our proposed 100 megawatts of new solar energy will provide enough clean electricity to power more than 16,000 homes and cut approximately 58,000 tons of carbon emissions each year — that’s the equivalent of taking 11,000 cars off the road.

What’s more, our universal solar systems send renewable, carbon-free energy into the electrical grid, which means that all of PSE&G’s customers reap the benefits of solar energy.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, which makes open space an increasingly valuable resource. But that doesn’t mean we should trade one green use for another.

By generating solar energy on old landfills and brownfields, PSE&G is helping to put historically “dirty” spaces back to work in an environmentally friendly manner.

In that way, we’re doubling solar energy’s environmental benefits.

Courtney McCormick is vice president of Renewables and Energy Solutions at PSE&G.

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