greenfields

Community Solar Garden at Brownfield Part of RE-Powering’s Innovation

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By Tim Rehder

On a cold December morning during a snow storm, I found myself walking across an open field known as the Tower Road site, owned by the City of Aurora. Surprisingly, all thoughts were focused on solar energy.

That morning, I joined researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and representatives of Aurora to kick off the solar feasibility study at this brownfield site. On the site walk, our team measured the solar availability and discussed future development plans. With my focus on land revitalization, I was excited to be working in the field in support of this project.

Finding an appropriate reuse for the property has been challenging for Aurora, as the property sits above contaminated ground water from the adjacent Buckley Air Force Base. The EPA-NREL feasibility study concluded that solar was not only viable, but the site could host up to an 18-megawatt solar system.

Through this feasibility study, EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative is helping bring community owned solar to the Front Range of Colorado. The RE-Powering Initiative, recently recognized by Harvard’s Kennedy School as one of the “Top 25” Innovations in American Government, encourages renewable energy development on potentially contaminated properties, landfills, and mining sites.

Groundbreaking is set for May on a 500-kilowatt solar project, developed under Colorado’s Community Solar Garden law by Clean Energy Collective. Citizens and businesses will subscribe to the array and be credited for electricity produced as if the panels were on their roof. I see this as a great option for those who can’t put solar on their roofs – because they rent or their building is shaded — to become clean energy generators.

The Tower Road array will look very much like the solar project at the Marshall Landfill Superfund Site near Boulder, CO. RE-Powering assisted the Marshall project by making the developer aware of the property and addressing liability concerns associated with constructing on Superfund sites. The projects will produce enough energy to power approximately 200 Colorado homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1,240 metric tonnes.

These two projects are excellent examples of how the RE-Powering program is helping put contaminated land back into productive use by bringing economic development, making good use of existing infrastructure and helping reduce pressure to develop nearby greenfields. By promoting renewable energy while revitalizing blighted properties, it’s no wonder the RE-Powering Initiative was recognized by Harvard as a model for innovation in government.

About the author: Tim Rehder is senior environmental scientist in EPA’s Denver office where he’s working to put renewable energy projects on contaminated lands and green buildings on formerly contaminated lands.  Tim is a LEED accredited professional and was on the design team for EPA’s LEED Gold certified office in Denver.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Brown 2 Green

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

I want to relate an exciting initiative upon which EPA Region 6 has embarked. We are working with state and federal agencies, land owners, renewable energy financiers and developers to advocate the use of previously contaminated sites as potential locations for renewable energy production. Together with the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources and the New Mexico Environment departments, Region 6 hosted the conference – Brown to Green: Make the Connection to Renewable Energy.

What might be a previously contaminated site? It could be a Brownfields designated property, a former military installation, a closed municipal landfill or a previously worked mining site. Really, almost any industrial facility could be prepared for a renewable energy use.

What are the merits of these types of sites? In most cases, the properties are less expensive to acquire than a greenfield development. The basic infrastructure – power grid access, water availability and highway arteries are nearby. In some cases, the costs associated in developing a greenfield site, including adding transmission lines could run into the millions of dollars. From an economic standpoint, reuse of a property means that it will be returned to local and state tax rolls for future assessments. And by using a previously developed property, acres of undisturbed lands will remain in their virgin state.

What type of renewable energy is applicable to these sites? As with most real estate developments, the answer to that question is “Location, Location, Location!” EPA and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory have mapped the thousands of locations of closed facilities and cross-referenced them with solar and wind capabilities. In the near future, geothermal production capabilities will be added. To get an idea of the potential for properties in your state, and see the state financial incentives for renewable energy, check out: http://www.epa.gov/renewableenergyland/ for more information.

What has EPA done to facilitate this initiative? For the last 6 months, I have led a group working with the City of Houston to assess the regulatory, technical and economic considerations for the development of a 10 MWatt solar farm on a portion of the closed Holmes Road Landfill. With the abundance of sunshine in the Houston area year-round, it would be feasible to use about 100 acres of the 300 acres at the closed landfill for a solar farm. The City is examining its contract options and hopes to make a decision in early 2009 about using the site.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.