How Congress can make sure clean energy development is smart from the start

Clean energy development is happening faster than ever with solar representing over 50 percent of all new energy brought online in Q1 2015. While this is exciting news, it also highlights the need to make sure as we build up our clean energy infrastructure we do so in the right way by putting projects in places that makes the most sense.

Yesterday the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony regarding the EPA’s brownfield redevelopment program – reauthorizing this program will help re-power contaminated lands with clean energy because it contains the successful RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative. This initiative specifically helps local communities identify current and formerly contaminated lands and mine sites that have good potential to be redeveloped into clean energy projects.  The agency then provides critical technical support to help with the redevelopment decision making process, including what it would take to cleanup or prepare the site and help with locating state and federal financial incentives that could be used to kick start a project.

So far the program has helped spark the installation of over 150 clean energy projects across the country resulting in a combined capacity of over 1,000 megawatts. Importantly, this gets America one gigawatt closer to the goal of creating a strong, clean energy economy and the only tradeoff was the removal of post-industrial health liabilities from our communities.

A bill to reauthorize the entire brownfield redevelopment initiative is currently in the Senate and has seen strong bipartisan support, which includes Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) as a lead sponsor.

It’s easy to see why an idea like this gets such strong bipartisan support. Typically, the areas being redeveloped were previously home to heavy industrial or mining activity that may have caused significant environmental damage or contamination. In many parts of the Midwest, the urban landscape is scarred with sites like these. But with the help of EPA, sites like these are being put back to work.

Like in Erie County, New York where for decades the one of the largest steel making facilities in the world sat closed, contaminated, and blighted. Today a 35 megawatt wind farm has spun this former superfund site from a grim reminder of the past into a vision of the future. Or in Cleveland, Ohio where five and half acres near the University Circle district were transformed from an industrial brownfield into a one megawatt solar generating station.

         

Left: Lake Erie breezes makes Steel Winds the largest wind powered brownfield redevelopment in the country. Credit: Liese Dart

Right: 1 MW solar field on the site of a former brownfield in Cleveland. Credit: Google Maps 

According to the EPA, the RE-Powering Initiative has identified nearly 15 million acres of previously contaminated land and mine sites that have potential for developing solar, wind, biomass and geothermal facilities. The combined renewable energy potential of these currently useless lands is estimated at one million megawatts – enough to power 1.5 to 2.5 million homes annually!

Almost lost in the excitement of possibilities is a vital reason programs like these deserve support: redevelopment of these brownfields means less need to develop our greenfields – the wildlands and habitats that make up America’s inspiring natural environment.

By encouraging renewable energy development on brownfields and other previously disturbed lands we can hit our goals of reducing the impacts of climate change without the need to put projects in places that will make our grandkids shake their heads. In fact, there is actually another great opportunity already moving through Congress that would do just this.

The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act (S 1407/H.R. 2663) would encourage large-scale renewable energy projects to locate within pre-screened development zones that offer high energy potential and low environmental conflicts. As evidenced by its strong bipartisan support - 24 Republicans and 26 Democrats are co-sponsors so far - this is another common sense renewable energy development idea that everyone can get behind.

Find out more about this important piece of legislation and see why Congress needs to act to support these “smart from the start” renewable energy ideas.

 

Written by Brian Fadie 

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