A former landfill in Houston could soon become the site for the largest urban farm in the state. The Sunnyside Landfill used to be Houston’s largest landfill and is made up of an area of land that is more than 200 football fields in size. Since the landfill was closed and capped in the 1970s, it has become overgrown with shrubs, trees, and mosquitos.  

development groups in the state, local architectsprivate companies, and city officials are coming together to transform the former landfill into a massive solar production site made up of thousands of solar panels. Additionally, the solar site will share space with both an agricultural production area and an educational center. 

Providing Solar Power to Houston Residents 

The solar site will be split between commercial solar and community solar shares. Around 220 acres of land will be devoted to commercial solar power, while around 12 will be solely for residents that can’t afford solar power or are unable to install solar panels.  

According to early estimates, a 70-megawatt solar array will be built and generate enough solar power for around 12,000 households. Job creation is another intended benefit of this solar project for Houston and if all goes according to plan with investors, we should see the project begin construction by 2021. 

Reinventing Cities Competition 

The Sunnyside Landfill project is part of a global effort known as Reinventing Cities. The goal of Reinventing Cities is to transform urban areas by introducing carbon-neutral innovations to certain cities to combat global warming and climate change. Houston and 30 other cities around the world have been selected to take part in the Reinventing Cities competition, in which the best innovations will serve as examples to other communities for future developments and sustainable energy projects. 

Reusing Land Space for Solar Energy 

Altering unused land to make room for solar energy is the kind of forward-thinking cities need to have, especially if we are to combat climate change. According to Nathanael Greene, senior renewable energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sunnyside Landfill is the perfect location for solar energy. Lara Cottingham, chief sustainability officer for Houston, also agrees that the redevelopment of the land for solar energy purposes is a great fit. 

Greene told the Houston Chronicle that using a ‘brownfield,’ or disturbed site, for solar energy is the best possible reuse of land. Due to reductions in solar energy costs in the last five years, solar can now reach cities and locations where it once could not. Overall, this initiative will bring clean energy, local economic development, and accessible solar energy to residents and businesses in the Houston area. 

Back in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that the landfill can be used for solar energy production, as long as it is revamped properly. To clear the landfill of excessive debris without disturbing the cap, the work is estimated to cost around $7,000 per acre.  

Local Support for the Sunnyside Solar Project 

Support for the landfill metamorphosis is high. One local advocate, in particular, has helped pave the way for local interest and solidarity with the project. Efrem Jernigan runs The STEM Foundation through the South Union Community Development Corporation on the weekends. He built an outdoor solar classroom nearly three years ago to help educate local youth in science and math. He and his team hold information sessions in the outdoor classroom for the community to address questions about local solar initiatives and the importance of clean energy development. 

Dori Wolfe, the lead developer for Sunnyside Energy, stated that the goal is “to make sure this is a benefit to the community.” Wolfe understands that there is a great deal of work to be done before the solar landfill project is complete, but she is optimistic that the project will soon take off once the right investors come together. 

Sadra Massie Hines, Houston’s honorary mayor and one of their most prominent civil rights activists, is in support of the solar project. She is adamant that this will be a “phenomenal opportunity for Sunnyside residents,” and increase a sense of community overall. 

Resources: 

https://www.c40reinventingcities.org/en/sites/holmes-road-landfill-1271.html 

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Hopes-rise-that-proposed-solar-farm-will-14490863.php 

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