The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. Brownfields are properties that can’t be expanded, redeveloped or reused because of contaminants left behind by previous occupants. Not surprisingly, many of these sites are left behind by the fossil fuel and manufacturing industries.
Brownfields can be very expensive to restore to safe conditions, and extremely dangerous for occupants if they’re not properly re-mediated. Convincing would-be buyers to invest in a property that needs this much work is difficult, but a new effort by the EPA might help.
The Re-Powering America’s Land Initiative seeks to encourage “renewable energy development on current and formerly contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites when it is aligned with the community’s vision for the site.” Instead of sitting, empty and toxic, the initiative hopes to turn these brownfields into solar or wind farms that will help bring safe, cheap energy to the community.
“We see responsible renewable energy development on contaminated lands and landfills as a win-win-win for the nation, local communities, and the environment,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, in an EPA press release. “In President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the administration set a goal to double renewable electricity generation by 2020. By identifying the renewable energy potential of contaminated sites across the country, these screening results are a good step toward meeting national renewable energy goals in order to address climate change, while also cleaning up and revitalizing contaminated lands in our communities.”
To make it easier for municipalities to evaluate their own brownfields, and determine whether they’re suitable for renewable energy development, the EPA launched the RE-Powering Mapper Tool. Using data from Google Earth and state and federal-level databases of potentially and formerly contaminated lands, The RE-Powering Mapper delivers over 66,000 sites that have been deemed suitable for solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy development.
“The updated screening provides insight into the significant potential for renewable energy generation on contaminated lands and landfills nationwide,” explains the press release. Searching the tool, one can find over 10,000 contaminated sites capable of supporting 300 kilowatts of solar energy or more.
“Based on mapped acreage, these sites could cumulatively host solar energy systems that capture greater than 30 times more solar energy than all renewable energy systems operating in the United States today,” continues the release.
Besides how beneficial it would be to bring that much clean energy into the grid, there’s another reason to get excited about this kind of development on America’s brownfields.
Right now, the Obama administration is pushing to open public lands for renewable energy development. After all, oil and gas companies have had access to our taxpayer-funded State and National Parks for years, often causing great harm. While a solar farm is better than a fracking operation, there are still many who believe these places should be free from development of any kind.
Rather than disturbing these wild lands, the Re-Powering Initiative suggests we look to land that’s already been developed and then left behind. Not to mention that many brownfields are urban or suburban, making transfer of electricity to the grid even easier. It’s a great idea and it’s already working.
The EPA reports that “since RE-Powering’s inception, more than 70 renewable energy projects have been installed on contaminated lands or landfills. These early projects represent just over 200 MW of installed capacity, which could power approximately 30,000 homes, and provide a foundation for future development as demonstrations of the latest technologies in both renewable energy and remediation design.”
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