A new solar energy farm in New Bedford is designed to power more than 200 homes. But this particular solar array sits atop a Superfund site. And it's taken a lot of coordinated effort at the local, State and Federal levels to make the project happen.
On a crisp and clear Friday afternoon, more than 5,000 sleek new solar panels slant skyward at the 11-acre Sullivan's Ledge site in New Bedford. With New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and others looking on, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy touted the fact that a polluted site could now be put to good use.
“To see it change from just a grassy area into something that is producing for this community is really testament to this region. It’s a great opportunity to show people that things can change,” McCarthy said.
Sullivan's Ledge was one of the EPA’s first Superfund sites. It operated as a quarry in the 1930's. Local industries used the quarry pits as a dumping ground from the 40's through the 70's, contaminating the soil with pollutants. The EPA originally planned to remove the contaminated soil, but decided instead to cap the site, leaving much of the contaminated soil and sediment in the ground. Local EPA Administrator Curt Spalding explained that when the solar farm was proposed, it meant the solar panels had to be placed on top of concrete foundations.
“So now it was just a question of how you put these concrete pads on top of that site without affecting that remediation in a way that somehow would upset the risks that are being managed here,” he said.
The major risk was that the protective cap could be breached if the panels were anchored directly into the ground. Mayor Mitchell says putting a solar array atop a Superfund site definitely has its risks, but those risks are manageable.
“It’s tempting to look at contamination on sites like this and to perceive them as permanent conditions. ‘It’s there in the ground, and it’s always gonna be in the ground, and we’re never, ever gonna go near it, and it can’t be of any use.’ And the reality is we can solve these problems,” Mitchell said.
The Sullivan’s Ledge solar farm, along with other solar projects now in progress, could save New Bedford an estimated $22 million dollars over the next 20 years.