Although using renewable energy is far greener than using fossil fuels, this does not exclude the corporations developing these technologies from committing environmental sins.
A $1.34 million settlement with four solar farms in three states was announced on Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). These solar farms were accused of violating the Clean Water Act by handling construction permits and stormwater improperly.
According to a news statement from the acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Larry Starfield, the growth of solar energy is a crucial part of this administration’s efforts to battle climate change.
These agreements convey a clear message to solar farm project owners that their facilities must be designed and constructed in accordance with all applicable environmental laws, including those that prohibit the release of construction-related sediment into nearby waters.
According to the Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS Information Center, utility-scale solar farms are often far less polluting than locations where fossil fuels are used. In addition to not emitting common air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds, they also do not emit the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate catastrophe. But that doesn’t imply they have no effect on the environment.
They occupy land that could be used for grazing or as a wild horse habitat, and if construction is handled improperly, they can cause soil compaction, increased runoff, and erosion. They can also cause particulate matter air pollution during construction and water resource stress due to the use of water to help generate electricity in dry areas.
The four solar companies ran into problems because of this most recent problem. According to the EPA, they were all charged with breaching the Clean Water Act’s requirements for building groundwater permits. These licenses are intended to stop construction runoff from contaminating rivers, putting aquatic life in danger, and damaging drinking water treatment facilities.
The four farms in question that broke the law were
- An installation owned by AL Solar A LLC (AL Solar) near LaFayette, Alabama
- An installation owned by American Falls Solar LLC (American Falls) near American Falls, Idaho
- An installation owned by Prairie State Solar LLC (Prairie State) in Perry County, Illinois
- An installation owned by Big River Solar LLC (Big River) in White County, Illinois
They were all accused of failing to install and maintain adequate stormwater controls, perform routine inspections, hire qualified individuals to conduct the inspections, and report and address stormwater issues as they emerged. AL Solar and American Falls Solar were also charged with allowing excessive runoff to illegally harm rivers.
The solar businesses were all divisions of significant financial and investment firms that had employed the same builder. AL Solar will pay $250,000 in civil fines to the federal government and $250,000 in civil penalties to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management now that construction on the sites in Alabama and Idaho is complete. American Falls will give the US government $416,500.
The two Illinois projects are still being built, thus Prairie State and Big River both submitted Consent Decrees to the federal and state governments of Illinois and the United States.
In accordance with one decree, Prairie State agreed to follow all applicable state and federal environmental laws, to keep up with permit requirements until construction was finished, to pay a fine of $157,500 to the federal government and a sum of $67,500 to the state, and to maintain all required permits. In another, Big River also agreed to comply by licenses and pay $52,500 to the state and $122,500 to the federal government.
The Clean Water Act must be followed by the solar energy industry, according to Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, even though the development of renewable energy holds enormous promise for addressing climate change. The proposed settlements show the Department of Justice’s commitment to holding those building these facilities—including the site owners—responsible for illegal construction methods that endanger our waterways.