Clean Energy from Landfills

By John Martin

When Mayor Bloomberg released the latest version of PlaNYC last month, the idea that got most of my attention was his proposal to turn the city’s landfills into electricity-producing solar plants. Although full implementation is still years away, this initiative could be a win-win for all New Yorkers.

We live in a crowded town. With an additional 1 million people expected to move here over the coming decades, every last inch will have to be put to productive use. While our 3,000 acres of shuttered landfills aren’t suitable for residential development, there are other ways to make good use of this land — fields of photovoltaic cells being one of them.

Under the city’s proposal, 250 of these acres would be leased to a private operator, who would install and run the plants. Although pricey at first, such an arrangement would be attractive to potential developers, since it would likely take just 10 years to recoup construction costs. If all goes as planned, the project could be enough to power as many as 50,000 homes.

One major advantage of this initiative is how clean solar energy is. Increased use of solar power would allow the city to reduce its dependence on its dirtiest plants, improving our air quality. Another advantage of this plan is that it reduces the need for transmission upgrades. The city’s closed landfills are close enough to residential areas that the need for new transmission lines would be minimal.

Finally, solar energy would provide electricity to New Yorkers when we need it most — during the hot, sunny days of summer. Having lived through the 2003 blackout and the July 2006 Queens power outage, a plan to help keep the air conditioners running through the summer is a plan that gets my support.

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