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A landfill in Indy will soon be home to community solar

A structure at Whispering Hills Golf Course sits on a portion of the former Julietta Landfill in southeast Indianapolis on April 24, 2024. (Provided Photo/Tyler Fenwick/Mirror Indy)

(MIRROR INDY) — The city of Indianapolis plans to expand renewable energy options for residents in the coming years, including putting solar panels atop a closed southeast side landfill and letting households share the electricity they generate.

The city also will work with the local chapter of Solar United Neighbors to install rooftop panels for qualified low- and moderate-income households.

The projects are thanks to grants from the Environmental Protection Agency. Indianapolis is part of two coalitions of municipal governments and organizations that are set to receive funding through the agency’s Solar For All program.

The city doesn’t know yet exactly how much money it will receive from the EPA, according to Lindsay Trameri, community engagement manager for the Office of Sustainability. That will be determined over the coming weeks as the two coalitions figure out how to dole out the money, so it’s unclear how many residents will benefit.

One group of grant applicants led by Growth Opportunity Partners received $156 million. Another group led by Indiana Community Action Association received $117 million.

The $117 million grant funding the community solar project has a five-year timeline, according to Office of Sustainability Director Morgan Mickelson.

Community solar generally refers to a facility that subscribers — homes, businesses, etc. — share, and they receive credits on their electricity bills for the power generated. Typically, subscribers pay a fee (usually monthly) to participate, with the goal of still paying less compared to a single monthly bill from the electric company.

The former landfill has the potential to host an eight- to 12-megawatt solar field, Mickelson said. For comparison, the solar farm at Indianapolis International Airport is 25 megawatts over 128 acres. A megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts.

The community solar project will be at the closed Julietta Landfill, which takes up about 70 acres around Whispering Hills Golf Course just south of Cumberland.

Residents used to dump household waste on the land illegally in the 1960s, according to IndyStar. A private landfill operator then leased the land for commercial and industrial waste until 1976, when the operator voluntarily closed the site because the state found the land unsuitable for use as a landfill.

More recently, residents expressed concern about the landfill after a state inspection discovered in 2014 that a barrier designed to prevent toxins from escaping had eroded.

Meanwhile, the project putting rooftop solar panels on homes builds off of a 2020 pilot by the city and Solar United Neighbors to increase solar equity.

Right now, solar access in Indiana is largely limited to people who have the means to pay thousands of dollars upfront or get a personal loan. That’s part of the reason why a recent ConsumerAffairs report found Indiana ranks among the worst states for going solar.

Plus, the Indiana General Assembly has phased out net metering, which is meant to incentivize homeowners by crediting them for excess energy they generate.

Like the community solar project, the scope of the rooftop solar plan depends on how much money Indianapolis receives from the EPA grant. The 2020 pilot included 10 homes.

Mirror Indy reporter Tyler Fenwick covers economics. Contact him at 317-766-1406 or Follow him on X @ty_fenwick.