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When Does a Landfill Become a Brownfield?

In the realm of renewable energy development, a pressing question of definition arises: When exactly does a landfill become a brownfield? As the solar industry continues to grow, understanding the answer can be crucial for harnessing the vast potential of contaminated lands.

Solar Potential on Contaminated Lands

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reveals a promising statistic: nearly 13 million acres of contaminated land are primed for solar development, after considering land and slope restrictions. To put this into perspective, that means over 10,000 closed and inactive landfills in the U.S. could be transformed to produce an impressive 63 gigawatts of solar capacity – enough energy to power 7.8 million American homes or the entire state of South Carolina.

Decoding Landfills

Landfills are categorized based on the waste they handle:

  • Municipal Solid Waste Landfills: Accepting household trash and other non-hazardous waste, these sites have significant solar potential.

  • Industrial Waste Landfills: Catering to commercial and institutional waste, including construction and demolition debris, these areas can be prime solar energy hubs.

  • Hazardous Waste Landfills: Designed to prevent hazardous wastes from being released into the environment, their transformation into solar sites requires meticulous planning.

The Environmental Protection Agency emphasizes that modern landfills are well-engineered facilities that are located, designed, operated, and monitored to ensure compliance with federal regulations. Today’s landfills must meet stringent design, operation and closure requirements established under the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and subsequently, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous waste.

Becoming a Brownfield

While newly constructed landfills are designed to protect the environment from contaminants that may be present in the waste stream, innumerable historic enforcement inactions have resulted in the illegal dumping of unsanctioned materials and contaminants at landfills around the country. When contamination is found to be present, a site may be deemed a brownfield in need of remediation work to clean up the contamination discovered on site.

When such contamination poses environmental challenges, where the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants hinders their redevelopment or reuse, the site is termed a 'brownfield.' Brownfields are properties hindered by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act further defines a brownfield as a property whose redevelopment “may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

It's important to note that the categorization of a landfill as a brownfield is typically determined by relevant environmental regulatory agencies or governing bodies. They assess potential contamination and risks, paving the way for solar industry professionals to determine the site's viability for solar development.


AC Power is here to support you every step of the way in bringing solar power to a brownfield near you. Contact us at for more information on developing solar energy projects on your local brownfield sites.


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