New developments in using clean energy to clean up brownfields

Wind turbines at the Bethlehem Steel Superfund site in Lackawanna, NY. Courtesy EPA.

Exciting new developments are advancing our policy goal of re-using contaminated idle brownfield sites to support new renewable energy sources. As we have argued in previous posts, using contaminated lands for renewable energy development means less pressure to develop uncontaminated natural areas and open space, and also means less need for new transmission lines and rights-of-way. It is a win-win for lands, communities, and advocates of a clean energy future.

First, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, by way of the RE-Powering America’s Lands Initiative, have identified 12 sites or groups of sites that merit closer assessment due to their potential to site renewable energy. The reviews—for which money has already been put on the table — will take place over the next year and a half, and will include a variety of analyses, from the best technology for the site, electricity generating capacity, and the economic feasibility of projects.

The locations of these sites range from Kansas to California to as far as Puerto Rico. This geographic diversity makes sense — as the U.S. Conference of Mayors likes to point out, there is a brownfield in every Congressional district, and we also know that there is a brownfield with renewable energy potential in every state!

We have also been closely tracking an interesting project in Questa, New Mexico, the Chevron Molycorp molybdenum mine. Chevron is planning to build the country’s largest concentrating solar photovoltaic plant on the mine tailings, which have been designated as a Superfund site. The 175 solar panels will be installed on 20 acres of polluted land and will provide 1 megawatt of power.

This project, which is slated to be completed at the end of 2010, has the potential to create jobs and revenue for the community and clean up an extremely contaminated site. Should it succeed, it will be one of the best case studies for putting renewable energy on contaminated lands by leveraging private money for the public good. We will keep you updated on its progress.

Finally, the President’s Budget released earlier this month contains good news for brownfields, with a $215 million request for brownfields cleanup, redevelopment, and job training (which is an increase of $42 million over last year). We are hopeful that some of these funds will be used to promote and incentivize the use of renewable energy as a sustainable end use for these sites. As Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA stated, “We’re investing in Superfund and Brownfields programs that employ thousands of people across the country and restore properties for economic use.”

All three of these developments just begin to show the amount of excitement that there is around this idea. TWS will be continuing to promote the use of brownfields for renewable energy development as part of our “guided development” strategy, making sure that renewable energy is sited in the most appropriate places. Find more information on what this means.

photo: Wind turbines at the Bethlehem Steel Superfund site in Lackawanna, NY. Courtesy EPA.