Toxic Dump Turns Solar-Energy Development

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"A sunny future lies atop this sealed mound of industrial waste."

Atop a sealed industrial waste mound on a historically toxic swath of Gloucester County, N.J., lies a sunny future.

About 6,500 solar panels will soon be delivered to the former Rollins Environmental facility, where six people died and at least 30 were injured after a massive explosion in Dec. 1977.

This notoriously wounded place looks far from hellacious; in fact, it's sort of scenic. I climb the slope of the defunct landfill that rises above the marshy grass in the heart of the site, and with maps and renderings, Clean Harbors Environmental Services President Bill Geary indicates where "an array" of 6-by-3-foot solar panels will be connected "like Legos." Covering 6 of 90 acres of the landfill's grassy surface, it will generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity, potentially enough for 1,100 homes.

"This is our very first solar array, and we'd like to have it energized by the end of January at the latest," says Geary Services.

Founded in 1980, the Massachusetts-based firm is among the largest hazardous-waste cleanup companies in the northern hemisphere (it's been working on the GOM oil spill). Clean Harbors obtained the 480-acre Logan Township property in 2002, and maintains crews and equipment there for response to regional environmental emergencies.

In the unregulated era before the 1970s, industrial waste of all sorts was transported to, stored and incinerated at, Rollins. The facility operated in stunning proximity to the Raccoon Creek, Delaware River and farms and homes. It closed in 2001 after its owner at the time, a company called Safety-Kleen, went bankrupt.

Although the landfill was sealed before 2002, Clean Harbors has since spent $7.7M to remediate other environmental damage on the property. The new $7.2M solar panels will offset the use of commercial power onsite.

"The remediation itself will be powered by renewable energy," Geary says.

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