Solar Facility Will Improve Toxic Lands While Providing Much Needed Jobs and Energy to Local Economy

May 13, 2010

QUESTA, NEW MEXICO - A move towards America’s clean energy future took a positive step forward today with a ground breaking in New Mexico on what will become the largest concentrated solar photovoltaic installation in the U.S. The Chevron Corporation will build a one megawatt solar facility on the degraded lands of the tailing site of Chevron Mining, Inc’s molybdenum mine. The Wilderness Society and renewable energy advocates have been pushing for renewable energy development on America’s brownfields, in an effort to turn waste lands into cleanfields for energy production.

“Chevron’s project is a great example of building renewable energy on disturbed lands, a fantastic way to utilize waste land by using our polluted past to get to our clean future.” said Zoe Krasney of The Wilderness Society’s Albuquerque office. “America is in a position to see this kind of forward thinking renewable energy project happening across the country. With the right incentives, a demand from the public, and guidance for clean energy development, we can become less dependent of the fuels that pollute our air, warm our planet, and aid foreign economies when our own is in need of repair.”

Support for renewable energy development on disturbed lands continues to grow, with efforts like the Arizona Bureau of Land Management’s Restoration Design Energy Project gaining traction and support, as well as increasing interest on the part of federal lawmakers, including the Cleanfields Act introduced last week by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D–NJ).

Chevron’s groundbreaking pushes forward the development of this facility on a Superfund site that until now was of no use. Many Superfund sites across the country remain toxic lands that provide no benefit to the local communities or economies. This facility will bring new jobs to the Questa community as well as much needed power for continued growth in the region.

“When we can find ways to encourage clean energy development while aiding our local economy we a stand to gain,” said Questa Mayor, Esther Garcia. “We need jobs. We need to ensure we are finding ways to revitalize wastelands in our area. We’ll keep our eyes open to ensure the site is being monitored and following promises to have little impact on the healthy environment that surrounds the facility.”

The molybdenum mine has operated under various owners in Questa since the 1920’s, including a period of open pit mining from 1965 until 1983. Waste rock, tailings, runoff and leachate contaminants released at the site are designated for Superfund cleanup. Some of the mining impacted areas are in the process of remediation, and other areas are scheduled for cleanup at the end of mining operations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated level of capping soil for the tailings is 3 feet. As part of the solar installation agreement, Chevron will use the 30 acres of the plant as a pilot demonstration ground to evaluate different soil depths suitable for use at the closure of the mine, in an attempt to show that shallower depths of 2 or 1 foot will still ensure no adverse impacts to the health of the local community and the environment. These demonstration sites will be closely monitored over a period of five years by the EPA and evaluated in conjunction with the New Mexico Environment Department.

“The Questa community is looking forward to turning brown into green,” said Mayor Garcia.

This traditional Northern New Mexico community has embraced the opportunity to create a clean energy economy, as well as the benefits of ecotourism development to showcase the astounding natural beauty of the land they cherish. A community event will be held this summer to celebrate the opening of a new trail system linking the village of Questa to the Wild Rivers Campground above the Rio Grande Gorge, and the nearby proposed El Rio Grande del Norte Conservation Area, proposed to preserve the historic and inspiring wild lands around them.