A vacant landfill that for decades endangered and diminished Houston’s low-income Sunnyside neighborhood has gotten the green light for conversion into a solar energy farm.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Earth Day, April 22, that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had granted a permit for the $70 million Sunnyside Solar Farm, which was originally announced last year.
The project will be anchored by 70 megawatts of solar panels installed across 224 acres. The farm will produce enough energy to power 5,000 to 10,000 homes. The project also will feature a 2-megawatt community solar installation, an education hub, and an agricultural center
Image courtesy of the city of Houston
City officials say the project will be the largest urban solar farm in the country and will remove an estimated 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year.
“I am optimistic about the future of this land and the people who live in the resilient neighborhood that developed around this environmental injustice,” Turner says in a news release. “Most importantly, it will transform the built environment of a historically under-served and under-resourced community by bringing private investment to Sunnyside, a predominantly Black and brown community that struggles daily with historical inequities that have created present-day disparities.”
In conjunction with the project, 175 Houstonians will be trained at Houston Community College and Lone Star College for solar and solar-related jobs.
“We used an environmental justice lens to reimagine this landfill. And we made equity the central and most critical component of our site redevelopment plans for Sunnyside,” Turner says.
Sunnyside Energy plans to seek permission from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to connect to the electric grid serving the bulk of Texas.
The Sunnyside landfill opened in the 1930s; it was closed in the 1970s after high levels of lead were discovered at the site. The City of Houston owns the land and is leasing it to Sunnyside Energy, which will own and operate the solar farm, for $1. Sunnyside Energy is a subsidiary of Houston-based Wolfe Energy.
A report from RMI, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy, estimated that the more than 10,000 shuttered landfills across the U.S. could host 63 gigawatts of solar capacity, enough energy to power 7.8 million American homes.
The mayor announced the approval on Earth Day. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston