Solar panels are popping up over parking lots. Great idea! Use the free space above the parking area to provide shelter for the vehicles and generate energy. It turns out this idea may work on a larger scale, too.

Solar power providers are looking at land that others ignore: landfills, abandoned mines, and land contaminated by pollutants.

Often, capped landfills have existing infrastructure that can be leveraged for solar energy. Using this currently unused and unusable land to construct solar farms makes sense. Engineering firm Tetra Tech believes that landfills could be created with the end goal of solar energy in mind to make it easier to transition once the landfill is closed. Landfill operators could gain financially from the partnership, taking ground that requires decades of expensive upkeep once closed and generating energy, which translates to income.

A solar project in New Jersey, built on a former chemical plant, is putting electricity into the local grid. New Jersey is a densely populated state, and land is at a premium. But solar projects on contaminated lands get preferential treatment, and there are now 25 projects underway.

In West Virginia, a coal-mining state, the legislature voted to allow the two major electric utilities to use abandoned mine lands for 400 megawatts of solar power. The state has experienced severe drought and flash flooding attributed to climate change and is realizing that renewables are the future of energy. Since they are surrounded by states that are embracing renewables, West Virginia needs to do the same or risk losing prospective employers who may decide that nearby states offer better renewable energy options to help the companies meet their own carbon neutrality goals.

In Pennsylvania, abandoned mine land reclamation is viewed as one process to provide employment opportunities for former mineworkers. They know the land well and could transition their skills and knowledge into surveying, geographic information systems mapping, or water quality monitoring. Solar farms will create temporary construction jobs, but fewer permanent jobs. But the solar developers contend that the addition of solar power will make a region more attractive to companies looking to build or expand, and that will diversify the regional economy and generate other jobs.

Solar and wind power need at least 10 times the amount of land to create the same amount of electricity as a coal plant or nuclear power plant. According to an official of the Office of Land and Emergency Management at the EPA, putting solar on contaminated land helps clean up the local community, invests in their economy, and furthers our mitigation of climate change.