Contaminated Sites Identified for Energy Use

Tue, 2013-10-01 09:16

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tool, which will now provide preliminary screening results for the renewable energy potential of 66,000 contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites across the country. The RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative was started in 2008 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. The RE-Powering program identifies the potential for renewable energy on these sites and provides resources for the communities, developers, local governments, or anyone interested in repurposing these sites for renewable energy development.

Pulling from the EPA databases of potentially and formerly contaminated lands, as well as various state agency databases, the RE-Powering Initiative has added 44,000 new sites to be considered for renewable energy potential. Through a collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the RE-Powering team developed screening criteria for solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal potential at various levels of development. The sites are tracked by the EPA and selected state agencies.

Wind turbine

There are a number of contaminated sites in the U.S. The EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfields located throughout the U.S. Many of these contaminated sites were previous landfills that are essentially urban mounds devoid of trees. These abandoned wastelands are good candidate sites for solar power and other forms of renewable energy. By utilizing contaminated lands, developers are able to leverage existing infrastructure, reduce project cycle times, improve project economics with reduced land costs and tax incentives, build a sustainable land development strategy, and protect open space.

The updated screening demonstrates the abundant potential of contaminated lands to provide opportunities for renewable energy development nationwide. For solar energy alone, the EPA has identified over 10,000 contaminated sites with the potential to install a 300-kilowatt solar array or greater. Based on the acreage mapped, 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.

RE-Powering America turns community liabilities into assets by fostering a collaborative network among players in the energy and remediation sectors. Since the introduction of the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative, more than 70 renewable energy projects have been installed on contaminated lands or landfills. This amounts to 200 MW of energy capacity--enough energy to power 30,000 homes.

RE-Powering America provides an alternative to development in undisturbed areas by suggesting that we look to previously developed and abandoned lands for energy potential. By finding these impaired properties and putting them back to use, we can help reduce our carbon footprint and meet our country’s growing energy demand.

By Danielle Whitman