The Brightfields Initiative: Legislative Update

Nationwide, support for solar generation is growing, particularly as states begin to develop solar arrays on closed landfills and contaminated, abandoned properties. Brightfields – contaminated sites with potential for solar energy generation – have seen particular success on the East Coast, where states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island have implemented solar photovoltaic installations on closed landfills.

While all closed landfill sites present geo-technical feasibility challenges related to site composition and landfill contents, Minnesota faces additional state-specific legal barriers. Many of the sites enrolled in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Closed Landfill Program (CLP) are constrained by state general obligation bonds, which cover closure and continuing maintenance costs of the closed landfill sites but do not address post-closure development, such as solar installation. These bonds present a critical barrier that prevents involvement from third party developers and complicates the regulatory process for local municipalities interested in developing solar arrays on CLP sites.

The Brightfields Initiative is addressing this challenge. With a diverse set of professional backgrounds – including public and non-profit sector employees from across the country – the collective provides cost-free professional, technical, financial, and regulatory expertise and analysis for local governments across Minnesota. By assisting pilot projects, the initiative is forging a path for consistent policy, permitting, and redevelopment protocol regarding solar installation on closed landfills enrolled in the MPCA’s CLP.

The Brightfields Initiative is actively pursuing the passage of a bill for an act relating to solar energy; appropriating money for a solar generation on closed landfill properties study (SF 2471 / HF 2437). The bill would appropriate funding for the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to conduct a comprehensive study of solar photovoltaic device installation on twenty-four of the 114 sites enrolled in the MPCA’s CLP. The study would examine the legal status of CLP site constraints; assess financial barriers; evaluate potential complications posed by closed landfill site characteristics; assess the potential and logistics for solar energy generation for low-income communities, and areas where environmental justice concerns are present; establish regulatory procedure for local governments; and analyze the costs, benefits, and logistics of solar energy production on a variety of sites. In March 2019, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the bill. It was referred to the Committee on Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy, recommended for passage, and re-referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee for inclusion in the omnibus environmental finance bill.

Brightfields Initiative partners include Metropolitan Council, Great Plains Institute, MN Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA), MN Department of Commerce, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), Windustry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Renewable Energy Labs, and Minnesota Brownfields.

If you would like to learn more about the Brightfields Initiative, reach out to Liz Lucente of MnSEIA.