NATIONAL NEWS

Major solar farm builder settles case alleging it violated clean water rules

Jan 17, 2024, 3:59 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. construction company that built solar farms across the country will pay $2.3 million in penalties to settle claims that it violated federal and state water protections in Alabama, Idaho and Illinois, the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

Swinerton agreed to pay the penalty and undertake mitigation measures for its alleged Clean Water Action violations during the construction of solar farms in the three states that began in 2016.

A complaint alleged that Swinerton did not have its building sites inspected by qualified personnel and failed to accurately address or report stormwater issues at its solar farms near American Falls, Idaho, near Lafayette, Alabama and in Perry and White Counties, Illinois. At the Alabama and Idaho sites, the complaint said Swinerton’s actions led to large amounts of stormwater discharges in nearby waterways.

Builders clear large sections of land when constructing solar farms, which can lead to sediment runoff into waterways if stormwater controls aren’t put in place. The controls are common to other types of construction. More sediment in waterways can hurt aquatic life, damage ecosystems and harm drinking water treatment systems, according to the EPA.

“Solar farms are vital to slowing the effects of climate change, but companies building solar farms must comply with environmental protection requirements just as companies must do for any other construction project,” said David Uhlmann, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement.

Swinerton could not be immediately reached for comment. In 2021, a private equity firm acquired Swinerton’s renewable energy division and its subsidiary SOLV Inc.

The company will pay $1.6 million to the federal government, while about $540,000 will go to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and roughly $145,000 to the state of Illinois.

EPA and the Justice Department said Swinerton will also fund a restoration project in Idaho on the Portneuf River that repairs some of the damage caused by the excess sediment discharges. In Alabama, the company will buy 14,000 “stream credits” that mitigate the loss of wetlands in the watershed surrounding the solar farm site. The effort will help preserve the watershed and its aquatic habitats, the federal government said.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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