Discussing renewable energy and brownfields in New Orleans

I’m in The Big Easy today to engage in a national dialog on redeveloping  brownfields for renewable energy. (Brownfields are parcels of land that have been previously used for industrial purposes). The Environmental Protection Agency, under the leadership of Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus, is doing some exciting things to capitalize on this remarkable opportunity.

Chase Huntley, Policy Advisor — Energy & Climate Change, blogs from New Orleans, LA at EPA Brownfields 2009.

In addition to mapping more than 9,500 prospective contaminated sites, the EPA has committed resources to conducting joint site assessments with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for 13 individual sites to determine both the cleanup requirements and renewable energy potential. The EPA has also partnered with the Department of the Interior to assist the BLM’s efforts to identify abandoned mine lands suitable for redevelopment. The EPA is also seeking ways to make cleanup grants and other federal incentives and assistance available to redevelopers interested in siting renewable energy facilities.

As we’ve written before, one of the most straightforward and promising ways to reconcile lands protection and renewable energy development is to site the industrial renewable energy facilities and associated transmission on brownfields or other disturbed sites. Siting renewable energy on contaminated lands reduces the pressure to develop pristine “greenspaces.” At the same time, it improves community health, engages local residents in the clean energy transition, and helps communities to achieve their full economic potential.

Moreover, the renewable energy potential of these sites is enormous and has caught the eye of many seeking to jumpstart the nation’s transition to clean renewable energy. Cities like Houston are carefully inventorying their properties for opportunities to install solar, wind, and geothermal generation to power hospitals, city buildings, and to sell back into the grid.

My colleagues and I at The Wilderness Society applaud these significant steps forward and call on the agency to redouble this commitment to fulfilling the promise of revitalizing these scarred lands. Today we sent a letter to Assistant Administrator Stanislaus outlining several additional steps we believe the agency could take to make sure existing monies are readily available to project developers. By recognizing the economic benefits to local communities of this type of reuse, we think demand will increase to reclaim these areas.

We will continue our work to make sure that demand is also driven by national policy measures pending in Congress, including the renewable electricity standard. Along with the US Conference of Mayors, we called on Congress to recognize the community value of this type of redevelopment in the renewable electricity credits handed out to utilities to motivate greater interest on their part to invest in these projects.

At a session yesterday, two renewable energy project developers and a well-known environmental justice advocate called this idea a “no-brainer”. I couldn’t agree more.