According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wind, solar, and biomass facilities comprise only a little more than two percent of the nation’s electricity. But renewable energy production is anticipated to increase by 70 percent or more by 2030. Finding affordable land in areas with the resources to support new renewable energy plants is the biggest challenge.
Now, as part of the EPA’s RE-Powering America’s program, the agency is taking a multi-level approach to cleaning up and developing contaminated land, such as polluted former industrial properties, or “brownfields,” for the development of wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy facilities. In addition to brownfields, the EPA has identified close to 15 million acres of Superfund sites, abandoned mines, and federal facilities, all of which are among the county’s most contaminated lands. Yet many of these properties are located in areas with enormous potential for renewable energy facilities.
The EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) Center for Program Analysis is encouraging companies to consider the reuse of contaminated sites for new renewable energy generation. Some of the benefits associated with these lands include acres of unused land, and infrastructure such as electric transmission lines, roads, and water already onsite as well as zoning for development.
This takes some of the stress of undeveloped lands for the build-out of new energy facilities while providing much-needed jobs in both rural and urban communities. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicts that photovoltaic (PV) solar development requires up to 12 acres of land per megawatt of installed capacity. Placing solar facilities on brownfields could be an economically viable reuse option for sites that require significant cleanup or if the local economic conditions prohibit traditional use of the site.
Several energy companies such as Charlottesville, VA-based Apex Wind Energy, Inc. have already built renewable energy facilities on contaminated land. Apex developed a wind farm in New York State, and in 2006 the German company, Solon SE, constructed a 425- kilowatt array south of Boston in Brockton, MA on property formerly used to make methane street lamps.
And Fort Carson just south of Colorado Springs, Colorado is home to the largest solar power site in the U.S. Army located on a 15-acre former landfill. The two-megawatt, ground-mounted PV solar array developed by First Solar, covers 12 acres and is expected to save Fort Carson $500,000 in energy costs throughout the 20-year contract with Colorado Springs Utilities. The fort is home to 11,000 people.
Article written by Julie Mitchell appearing courtesy Celsias.