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US' Biggest Landfill To Become New York City's Biggest Solar Project

What was once the largest landfill on the planet is being partly reinvented, and solar energy will be playing a big role in that.

New York City will convert roughly 47 acres of land at the Freshkills Park on Staten Island into a 10-MW solar installation, five times bigger than any other system in the city and boosting the city's renewable energy by 50 percent, according to officials. SunEdison, which won the public bidding process, will lease the land to design, build, and operate the facility, with construction reportedly beginning in late 2015 and online within a year.

Freshkills opened more than half a century ago and quickly became the largest landfill in the world; at its peak in the 1980s it took in tens of thousands of garbage per day as the city's primary solid waste landfill, with four landfill mounds amounting to 150 million tons of solid waste. At one point it was the largest man-made structure, taller than the Statue of Liberty and reportedly visible from space. It was officially closed in 2001, though it was brought back to temporary service to help sort through Sept. 11 material. A landfill gas recovery operation has been in place since then.

In the mid-2000s the city crafted a new initiative, PlaNYC, under which two dozen city agencies began undertaking work to make the city greener, from cleaning up brownfield sites to requiring "green" buildings to expanding sustainable transportation to supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy. Part of those plans involved a 30-year multistage process to rejuvenate hundreds of acres of the Freshkills landfill. At this point they call for transforming the former landfill into parkland, nearly three times the size of Central Park.

Next month the Department of Parks and Recreation plans to map out an additional 1,500 acres of the Freshkills site to be parkland, which will include a provision for specific sites to develop renewable energy, hoping to expedite and streamline the process for this proposed solar installation.

"Over the last twelve years we've restored wetlands and vegetation and opened new parks and soccer fields at the edges of the site," stated Mayor Bloomberg, and "it is only fitting that Freshkills, once a daily dumping ground, will become a showcase urban renewal and sustainability." Veronica White, Parks and Recreation Commissioner, similarly praised the multipronged city-wide efforts to reclaim Freshkills. "When you visit Freshkills Park today, it’s hard to imagine it was ever a landfill."

Several politicos and environmental advocates joined hands to praise the deal, collectively praising the transformation of an "environmental nightmare" into a renewable energy showcase, while others noted there's a lot of work ahead. "Developing solar energy on Freshkills Park shows that large-scale renewable energy projects are possible in New York City, but this is only a first step," stated Cas Holloway, Deputy Mayor for Operations, urging that meeting the city's energy needs with renewable energy will require help from everyone: state and federal governments, utilities, and private-sector partners. Sergej Mahnovski, Director of the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, echoed that this Freshkill solar project will "push existing regulations to their boundaries," from clarification of its interconnection to expansion of supportive state programs to rules governing landfill post-closure care. Nevertheless, he stated, "this is a necessary undertaking in order to shift our power sector to a cleaner, more reliable energy future."

Lead image: Female hands on a background of green field and sky, via Shutterstock

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