Brightfields are an amazing way to turn otherwise unusable land into clean energy generation. Brightfields refer to solar installations on closed landfills, which have been settled and closed over with a top layer of soil and grass. The solar may go directly on the cap or on adjacent buffer land. This process takes blighted land that would otherwise remain unused, not fit for major redevelopment or agriculture, and turns it into a point of clean energy generation. 

The benefits of brightfields extend beyond solar generation. Brightfields will also help create numerous jobs in local economies, help raise property value, and put solar in communities with limited access to renewable energy. Brightfields are a great way to start the redevelopment of landfills in a low-impact way—installations use ballasted systems so as to not puncture the cap. This idea has seen bipartisan support as a way of producing more solar energy without using any prime agricultural land. 

MnSEIA lobbied for the passage of funding for a Brightfields pilot study in the 2019 Legislative Session. This study identified and prioritized closed landfills in Minnesota by their potential for solar development, and also unearthed some of the challenges standing in the way of that development. Those challenges include restrictions on land use that attach with the use of state bonds, and also the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s authority to regulate landfills for reuse and redevelopment.

Now our focus has turned to creating a pilot project on the top identified sites that will help show the economic and social benefits of brightfields in Minnesota. To that end MnSEIA is seeking to amend the Landfill Cleanup Act (LCA) to include this pilot project and to shape the LCA to be more forward looking, focusing on redeveloping the land as well, as opposed to just containing it. By amending the LCA, Renewable Development Account (RDA) funds can be used to pay down bonds and free the sites from restrictions, which also has the added benefit of freeing up General State Funds for another purpose. The pilot project will focus on the top sites identified in the study for solar development to help show the economic and social benefits that brightfields can have for Minnesota.