LaFayette solar project fined by EPA for violation of Clean Waters Act

Published 2:47 pm Friday, November 18, 2022

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The owners of one of Alabama’s largest solar projects, AL Solar A, have agreed to pay $500,000 to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act that occurred during the construction of a 1,100-acre solar farm in LaFayette, according to a press release from teh Environmental Protection Agency. The multi-state complaint involved four companies, all owned by large international corporations, that operated solar facilities in Alabama, Illinois and Idaho. Together, the corporations will have to pay a total $1.3 million in reparations.

Built in 2018, AL Solar A was a collaborative project between Alabama Power, Walmart and Centaurus Renewable Energy to help Walmart meet its clean and renewable energy goals. The site features more than 338,662 solar panels spread across 1,100 acres just south of LaFayette. All electricity generated at the site is fed into Alabama Power’s electrical grid to offset the electricity used in Walmart stores.

According to the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, the construction company used to build these facilities did not follow proper environmental guidelines, violating construction permits and rules for handling groundwater as prescribed by the Clean Water Act. According to the consent decree, the sediment runoff from the construction of the farm polluted groundwater and the nearby Kellem Hill Creek. 

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In a press release, Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division noted that these projects are important for fighting climate change but that they must still follow previously established regulations. 

“While the development of renewable energy holds great promise for combating climate change, the solar energy industry must comply with the Clean Water Act,” Kim said. “The proposed settlements demonstrate the Department of Justice’s commitment to require those developing these facilities, including the site owners, to comply with the law, or be held accountable for construction practices that put our waterways at risk.”  

The United States and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) filed a stipulation of settlement with AL Solar A LLC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama along with its complaint. Under that settlement, AL Solar will pay a $250,000 civil penalty to the United States and a $250,000 civil penalty to ADEM.

“The development of solar energy is a key component of this administration’s efforts to combat climate change,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “These settlements send an important message to the site owners of solar farm projects that these facilities must be planned and built in compliance with all environmental laws, including those that prevent the discharge of sediment into local waters during construction.”

Alabama Solar A LLC nor the parent company, Centaurus Renewable Energy, responded to a request for comment in regards to the lawsuit.