Last year, local governments across the U.S. announced a combined 207 megawatts of energy from 21 landfill solar projects, according to recent figures from the World Resources Institute and RMI, an organization that advances clean energy projects. That’s a 10-fold increase in energy capacity compared with recent years, and it includes the three largest projects in the country to date.
The surge reflects growing interest among municipalities to develop increasingly ambitious clean energy projects. For example, one brightfield deal in Columbus, Ohio, announced last September, will generate 50 megawatts of energy. Another project of similar capacity, announced in January 2021, is being developed on 240 acres of landfill in Houston, Texas. Those two projects account for half of the brightfield energy announced last year, and each will power about 5,000 homes annually.
While it’s not unheard of for capped landfills to become parks or golf courses, solar farms can be a more feasible alternative, as there’s no need to prepare or maintain the site to accommodate the public. Solar farms can also leverage resources that typically exist near landfills already, like access roads and connections to electric infrastructure. And unlike golf courses, brightfields harness a clean power source that can be distributed to a broad population, thereby helping to correct environmental injustices that people living near the landfill site have endured.
On a national scale, there is huge potential in these projects. Based on an RMI brightfield analysis from late 2021, closed landfills could host more than 60 gigawatts of solar capacity—enough energy to power the state of South Carolina.