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Riverside Solar Project “Correctly” Sited on Landfill

Before a solar plant was constructed on the site, there was nothing environmentally “correct” about the Tequesquite landfill in Riverside, California. Located on 125 acres near the Santa Ana River, just south of Mount Rubidoux, the landfill became so toxic that it was closed in the 1990s. The city of Riverside then spent $14 million just to keep the capped landfill from polluting more, including the construction of a network of pipes to draw away the methane gas from the decomposing trash.

But the new solar project, which became operational on September 9th, has transformed the site. The plant, owned by 8point3 Energy Partners LP, a joint venture between SunPower and First Solar Inc., occupies 20 acres of the landfill site and generates 7.5MW of power, enough to service 2250 homes. And according to this article, the site is in accordance with the recommendations of a recent report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that solar projects be built on previously developed land. As the PNAS study concludes, “Land use policies and electricity planning that emphasizes the use of human-impacted places… may prove an effective approach for avoiding deleterious land cover change.”

The Riverside project is a product of the city’s Clean & Green Task Force, which originated in 2005. The task force’s goal was to generate 20MW of solar power in Riverside by 2020. Meanwhile, Riverside Public Utilities (RPU) began a residential solar rebate program in 2003 and a commercial solar rebate program in 2008. Last year alone, the city invested $54.6 million in solar panels, including shade structures at parking lots and ground systems at two sheriff’s stations. Partly due to the Tequesquite project, the city has already reached its solar power goal… five years ahead of schedule. Said Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey “Riverside reaching the 20-megawatt milestone is especially impressive because it was not too long ago that one megawatt was an ambitious goal.”

Constructed under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between SunPower and RPU, the utility purchases the power at retail rates and the city of Riverside receives the energy credits. (Bill Kelly, vice president of San Jose-based SunPower, claims that the project could function for up to 40 years.) The city’s Sustainability Officer, Michael Bacich, said, “We’ve come a long way from our first solar generation project [in 2001] to the nearly 1,700 systems that are online in Riverside today.” RPU has already signed contracts for additional solar projects that will bring the total to 97 megawatts, approximately 11 percent of the city’s energy supply.


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