Solar Power from Landfills and Old Coal Plants


Community solar developments have many benefits, but one that is often overlooked is the fact they provide a use for otherwise polluted or unusable spaces. Solar panel installations can be much more flexible and unobtrusive than other types of power generating plants, and existing pollution where they’re built isn’t an issue. This means that they can go on old landfills, highway medians, parking garages, and even decommissioned coal plants, to name a few of the sites that are now powering thousands of households around Massachusetts.

There are many installations already in place on landfills. For example, there’s an 18 acre landfill in Berkley, MA which is now home to an array of more than 11,200 solar panels. Chicopee, MA has 8,000 panels on 6 acres of landfill. There’s a farm on a landfill in Hudson, MA with capacity to power about 1,000 homes, and another in Amesbury with 4.5 megawatts installed. Once a landfill is full, it doesn’t have to be a waste of acreage – instead it can host clean energy to power the towns near it.

While covered landfills are a great choice for an install site, they’re not the only option. The coal plant on Mount Tom in Holyoke was decommissioned four years ago, and is now the site of 17,000 panels plus battery storage. They’re hoping to have the batteries charged by mid-October, which is a huge step forward for clean energy since one of the greatest challenges to date has been storing what’s produced and then distributing that at the times it’s most needed.

Although it’s logical to repurpose hard to use spaces like this, especially with the price of land in Massachusetts, companies are further incentivized to do so with the state’s new solar program. This week, the MA Department of Public Utilities (DPU) issued an order to move forward with compensating new solar projects under the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program. The SMART program incentivizes projects that make use of “rooftops, parking lots, and landfills…” as well as those that combine storage with a solar installation, which is a first.

Massachusetts’ clean energy transition is happening on sites that were previously putting out pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a win on all sides – siting solar arrays this way saves valuable land. It also turns what would have been an eyesore or a waste of land into something that benefits the residents near it with savings and clean energy, provides a revenue stream to that area, and improves the local environment by offsetting the pollution that comes from fossil fuel power production.

Community Solar

The Local Push to Battle Climate Change

As the United States has drawn back from international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the battle to combat climate change is moving to the state and local level.

California recently set the pace by committing to have the state run on 100% carbon free electricity by 2045. Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown signed the historic Senate Bill 100 which commits his state to run on renewable energy. According to a report in spring of 2018 from the U.S. Department of Commerce, California is the fifth largest economy in the world. This is the highest ranking it’s had since 2002, which gives this bill a lot of weight. In 2017, 29% of in state electricity generation came from renewables, second only to natural gas. On optimal days of 2017, solar alone generated over half of the state’s usage. The fact that California has been a leader in clean energy while also building a thriving economy is a strong counter to the argument that transitioning from fossil fuels to more sustainable sources will hurt economic growth. The size of the state, both in population and in GDP, also means that their commitment will have a big impact and be an example for others.

While California’s decision to push hard for zero carbon emissions is major, it is actually the second state to set this goal. The first was Hawaii, which also committed to going 100% renewable by 2045 back in 2015. In 2017 Hawaii got a whopping 33% of its energy from rooftop arrays alone, and on good days can it hit 60% from renewables more broadly.

Massachusetts has also been a leader in efficiency and renewables. Back in 2008 they set an example with targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, aiming for “…25% below 1990 levels for 2020 – on the way toward an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.” Just this June Mayor Marty Walsh hosted an international mayor’s climate summit in Boston, MA to discuss how cities can become more resilient, prepare for climate change, and take action locally to reduce carbon emissions. The summit also featured prominent business leaders, to encourage cooperation between the private and public sector.

The concept of “net zero” or “100% Renewable” is also becoming more mainstream. According to a recent Greentech Media article: “More than 200 mayors across the country have publicly committed to achieving 100 percent clean energy, and a small but growing number of states are considering the same target.” These goals are getting support from both political parties, and each politician, city, and state that joins in makes a 100% renewable future seem more realistic and achievable.

With the setbacks and change of tone the U.S. has seen on climate change recently, leadership and action has to come from the local level. States and cities concerned by climate change, especially in coastal regions, and consumer preferences for clean energy are pushing change forward. Local change starts with individuals; and residential efficiency and clean energy has been a major driver. Find out below what you can do to change the way we get our power here in Massachusetts.


Community Solar Makes Solar Available to All



Community Solar Farm

Community Solar Can Supplement Rooftop

Rooftop solar has been booming in recent years, but by itself it’s not enough. Even homes with good exposure can’t always produce 100% of the occupant’s usage. According to a recent article from the NRDC, community solar developments could be the solution.

Community Solar is a way for multiple households to access clean energy. Programs differ, but basically each household gets a share of the field and receives credit for that share’s production on their electric bill. The fields are accessible to more residential electric users than rooftop installations, which face obstacles such as roof exposure, upfront costs, structural issues, and shade. The article reported that solar fields are a way to get low cost and accessible renewable energy. “In the study, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), analysts from the Brattle Group found that community solar could be a more cost-effective and powerful carbon-cutting tool than individual rooftop installations.”

The panels in a solar farm can also be placed for optimal production and generate more efficiently than rooftop installations can. “The study compared 200 hypothetical zero net energy (ZNE) homes in both Minnesota and New Mexico and determined that the cost of installing community solar to power ZNE homes was 30 to 35 percent less than individual rooftop installations… The savings from community solar are due in part to economies of scale, as well the technological advantages of a large, offsite array. Large solar arrays can be adjusted to catch more light throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky, and be oriented in an optimal direction, and thus generate more electricity than rooftop panels. And by offering an offsite location, community solar enables more people to use solar energy, even if they don’t have enough space on the roof or if their rooftop is shady.”

As more states and local communities push for “net zero” goals, with California pledging to go 100% renewable and zero carbon by 2045, community solar has an important role to play. Here in Massachusetts, where we have older buildings and lots of trees, many homes only get part of their bills covered by rooftop, or don’t qualify at all. Click below to find out what programs are available to you.


Community Solar Makes Solar Available to All



“Solar should be able to benefit everyone!”

Hancock Community Solar

Community Solar Farm in Hancock, MA

Until now, solar was mostly available to affluent homeowners with a perfectly situated roof, or to large companies. Luckily, that’s starting to change. According to a recent Greentech Media article by Emma Foehringer Merchant, “How to Build Community Solar Projects for the Masses,” community solar is positioned to make clean energy affordable and accessible to previously underserved communities.

“A new report from GTM Research, Wood Mackenzie and Vote Solar, a solar accessibility advocate, notes that 50 to 75 percent of U.S. consumers don’t have access to conventional rooftop installations. But if it is executed properly, community solar can change that… ‘Solar should be able to benefit everyone,’ said MJ Shiao, head of Americas research at GTM Research. ‘But it’s difficult to apply onsite solar to folks who rent, or to low-income communities….’ ”

It’s often difficult or impossible to put solar up on rental units or condos, which bars a lot of customers from the market. Especially in urban areas, where living space comes at a premium and a lot of people rent, this is a serious obstacle for meeting the demand for clean energy. In addition to the environmental benefits of solar projects, there are also some real financial benefit. The savings from solar projects have not been accessible to the populations who arguably could benefit the most from them.

Community solar could go beyond just making solar more accessible; it could be developed to help specific populations: “GTM Research notes in its report that ‘community solar can be used as a tool to target benefits to communities historically have been at the front lines of environmental pollution and negative impacts from traditional energy generation.’”

Analysts recommend job training programs, siting preferences and community-focused incentives to provide benefits to populations that have been sidelined by the electricity system. Baking environmental justice initiatives into community solar development can also have positive impacts on public health.”

It’s a win on all sides – generate jobs in places that need them, offer the financial benefits of solar to new and underserved populations, improve the quality of the environment by replacing polluting power plants, and give more people the ability to choose clean power.

More solar farms are going up across Massachusetts – find out here if there is a community solar project that serves your area!


Community Solar Makes Solar Available to All



The Highest Impact Choices You Can Make for the Environment

Facing climate change can seem overwhelming, but the choices we each make have a huge impact. Supporting clean power over fossil fuels is not only great for the planet, it’s also great for your bottom line. Check out this graphic on the best actions you can take.

Personal Choices To Reduce Your Contribution To Climate Change

What can I do to make the biggest difference?

The study behind this graphic addresses how we perceive the environmental impact of our habits. Choices that get a lot of buzz as environmentally friendly are not necessarily as impactful as you’d hope. In their peer reviewed study “The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions,” Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas analyze what widely applicable changes individuals can make to offset the most carbon.

They found that while things like recycling, changing light bulbs, or switching to hybrids get a lot of coverage, there are far more impactful things we can do. For example, they found that eating a plant based diet is four times more effective than comprehensive recycling, and eight times more effective than changing out a home’s light bulbs.

Their top four impactful decisions included having one less child, living car free, avoiding one transatlantic flight, and switching a household to clean energy. However, when compared to recommendations in textbooks and government papers, these changes were mentioned much less frequently than things like recycling, conserving water, and looking at home efficiency improvements.

The study stressed that getting the facts out to well-meaning consumers, especially in developed areas with high carbon footprints, is crucial to mitigating climate change. While some of the recommendations are difficult to fully implement, clean power is one choice that has become increasingly accessible.

Flying or driving might be unavoidable where you live or with the your job, and having children is a very personal decision. But supporting clean power is easy.  You’re already buying electricity.  Why not vote with your dollars to support clean, local energy? At Relay Power we’ve helped hundreds of Massachusetts residents save money and help the environment by educating them on the clean power offerings available to them and helping them choose the best fit.


Community Solar Makes Solar Available to All


Build More to Drive Down the Price of Wind and Solar

Spring Canyon Wind Farm

Turbines at the Spring Canyon Wind Farm outside Peetz, Colo. The farm is owned by Invenergy, and produces energy under contract to Xcel Energy. Credit Ryan David Brown for The New York Times

According to a recent NY Times article, one electric utility is embracing wind and solar, not for environmental reasons, but because “In parts of the country, wind and solar plants built from scratch now offer the cheapest power available, even counting old coal, which was long seen as unbeatable…

How, exactly, did the cleanest energy technologies get on path to become the cheapest?  In a way, the story is as old as Henry Ford and his Model T, or in more recent times, the amazing progress of computer chips.  As they scale up, new technologies often follow a ‘learning curve’ that cuts the cost.  But it’s not automatic.  You have to build more and more units to drive the prices down.  That happened naturally with consumer products like Model Ts and cellphones, since everybody who saw the things wanted one.  But the electricity system was a hidebound, monopolistic industry that used to spend virtually nothing on innovation…

But most utilities are still only doing what governments have required of them.”  Luckily, we can still help promote building more and more clean power units and help drive the cost down further.


“Solar is not just expanding today because it’s green or clean — those are side benefits”

“Solar is not just expanding today because it’s green or clean — those are side benefits,” Lamon says. “Look at what it can help do to the overall U.S. economy. … We find people making $8, $9 an hour flipping burgers, and we bring them to a solar plant and pay them $18.”  This quote is from the Time magazine article, “A Coal Executive Switched to Building Solar Plants…

The article goes on to say, the aforementioned coal executive, Jim Lamon’s, company, “Depcom Power employs more than 1,600 people designing, building and operating solar farms with projects spread across the country from blue states like California to red states like Mississippi. Across the industry, more than 250,000 people in total work in solar in the U.S. typically in rural areas.”

DEPCOM construction crews assemble solar modules during the construction of the 55 megawatt Idaho Solar plant. Rusty Hill- SkyBlue Media

“…Lamon believed that low-cost solar would continue to serve as a more affordable energy source than coal and often natural gas no matter what came policy emerged from the White House. Indeed, that’s why he began building solar power plants in the first place. Without subsidies, electricity from large-scale solar power plants currently costs about a third the cost of coal and is about even with natural gas, according to data from the financial advisory firm Lazard. It’s even cheaper with subsidies.” the article continues.