Houston to build country's largest urban solar farm on former landfill in Sunnyside

Houston's Sunnyside neighborhood will soon be home to the country's largest urban solar farm built on a former landfill.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Friday that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved permits for the Sunnyside Solar Farm to be built on a 240-acre former landfill.

The area is located on Bellfort Street near Sunnyside Park and across the street from Young Elementary School.

The project will transform the former landfill, which sat dormant for more than five decades, into a 50-megawatt solar project that will generate enough energy to power 5,000 to 10,000 homes.

Planners say the solar array will take an estimated 120 million pounds of carbon out of the air each year and create jobs and job training in a historically underrepresented community.

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U.S. Rep. Al Green, who was at Friday's news conference, was able to secure $750,000 in federal funds for the EmPowering Solar Jobs Program, a workforce development initiative that is part of the Sunnyside Solar Farm project.

"These federal funds will be used to provide STEM career opportunities for Houstonians in the solar technology sector. It allows them to be trained and certified as installers, maintenance technicians, and constructors of solar panels and related technologies," said Rep. Green. "The average advertised salary for entry-level STEM jobs requiring a BA or higher is $66,123 compared to $53,299 for non-STEM jobs, which is around a $14,000 difference, representing a 26% premium."

About 175 Houstonians will be trained and placed through Houston Community College and Lone Star College, creating opportunities for students from Sunnyside and other Complete Communities neighborhoods for solar and solar-related jobs by September 2023.

"We used an environmental justice lens to reimagine this landfill," said Mayor Turner. "And we made equity the central and most critical component of our site redevelopment plans for Sunnyside."

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In January, city leaders said the farm will cost about $70 million to construct with most of the money coming from private investments. About $750,000 in federal funds has also been secured to help with construction.

Construction is expected to begin in late 2022 and the array is expected to be in commercial operation about a year later. 

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, about 9% of the power generation available in the state comes from solar.

FOX Weather contributed to this report.