RE Powering America’s Land Initiative

Another Way to Act on Climate: Getting Smart on Brownfields Reuse

For 20 years, the brownfields program has worked with local communities to help support reuse and development of former and current contaminated lands. Cleaning up brownfields has put a lot of land back into use, helping communities and boosting local economies. This work has another huge benefit, too: as we redevelop brownfield sites to significantly reduce the impact of climate change.

In Milwaukee, a 5-mile strip that was once the site of several industrial facilities is going through an extensive cleanup. Over 60,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 40 underground storage tanks have been removed. One of the community’s ideas for the land’s next use is building a green, linear park, with bike trails to encourage lower-impact forms of transit. The park will use green infrastructure elements to reduce stormwater runoff, protecting local waterways during storms that can be made more intense by climate change.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New Life for Superfund Sites: From Contamination to Clean Energy

Renewable energy is growing – and as it grows, more and more wind turbines, solar farms and other projects are being built on formerly contaminated Superfund sites.

Our RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative encourages renewable energy development on current, former and potentially contaminated land, landfills and mine sites. The initiative develops screening and mapping tools, drafts technical resources and best practices, and highlights case studies and success stories.

Siting renewable energy facilities on formerly contaminated land can not only be done safely, it can also benefit communities, as these projects create new, low cost sources of clean power, and can bring new resources to the table to get cleanups done faster. The projects support property values, more jobs, more tax revenue to support public services and a better local economy. They also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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RE-Powering America: Updated Project Tracking Matrix and Map

 By Marc Thomas

I’ve always loved maps because each map tells a story. In my living room is a framed map from 1860 of where I live: Washington, DC. I often stop and stare at it, and I usually notice something new. I also think about what life must have been like in our nation’s capital during the Civil War.

I love that I get to explore lots of maps as part of my work with the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative. For example, there’s the RE-Powering Mapper that uses Google Earth to screen sites all over the country for contaminated lands, landfills, and mines that have renewable energy potential. We’ve also developed a series of static maps that illustrate the significant opportunities that exist nationwide for siting solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass projects on these properties.

 

We just updated our project tracking matrix, which is a list of 85 completed renewable energy projects on contaminated lands. As part of this update, we created a new map of these sites. Projects have been developed in 27 states, from Hawaii to Georgia to Vermont. Examples range from small solar arrays that power cleanup activities onsite, such as the 10 kW project at the Refuse Hideway Landfill in Wisconsin, to huge, utility-scale projects like the 237 MW wind project on the Dave Johnston Mine Reclamation site in Wyoming.

Looking at this new map, I was quickly struck by one yellow dot in western North Carolina, where I’m from. I learned that a 555-kW solar PV project had been built on a former landfill not ten minutes down I-40 from the house where I grew up. This project provides power to the homes of my friends and neighbors and is also a productive use of a closed landfill. Seeing that dot on the map reminded me that these projects offer real benefits to the communities surrounding them: each one has its own story. To learn more about this and other completed projects, see our updated project tracking matrix and map.

About the author:  Marc Thomas has served as a program analyst with EPA for over 8 years. For most of his career, he has identified ways to encourage the cleanup and revitalization of contaminated sites. Since January 2013, he has worked with the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative.

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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Renewable Energy – An Energizing Reuse of Contaminated Lands

Photo Credit: Volkswagen Group of America

By Sara Rasmussen

As I turn the calendar page on another Earth Day, it’s nice to pause and take note of how far we’ve progressed. When I started working on the reuse of RCRA hazardous waste sites in the early 2000s, there was little focus on renewable power. In 2008, to encourage the reuse of contaminated properties for renewable energy production, EPA launched its RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative. Since then, scores of exciting renewable energy projects have been installed around the country on contaminated land, ranging from ground-mounted utility-scale systems to roof-top systems to smaller systems. Some provide energy for activities on the property, while others sell power back to the grid. Information on over 70 such projects is posted on EPA’s RE-Powering website.

What I like about these projects is that they are “win-win.” Renewable energy systems tend to be cleaner which helps protect our environment. At the same time, they productively reuse contaminated properties which brings economic development to a community, makes good use of existing infrastructure, and helps reduce pressure to develop nearby open space.

Photo Credit: Volkswagen Group of America

An impressive example is Volkswagen’s recent revitalization of the former “Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant” property. After the contamination was addressed through the RCRA corrective action program, Volkswagen built a state-of-the-art assembly plant. To help power the plant, a 33,000 solar panel array –Tennessee’s second largest—was installed, increasing the sustainability of the facility and helping it become the only automotive manufacturing plant with Platinum LEED certification.

These projects require vision and extensive collaboration between many different regulators and stakeholders, but are worth the effort. Volkswagen had the vision and willingness to install renewable energy at its facility. Likewise, the City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, the U.S. Army, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and EPA all came together to help make this happen. Appropriately, there was much to celebrate at the ribbon cutting ceremony this past February.

Others can develop successful projects too. EPA has many tools to help determine if renewable energy is viable for specific locations. These include interactive maps which identify sites with potential for various renewable energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass), site screening tools, and several other resources.

With all we’ve learned about how to make renewable energy projects successful, we can look forward to many more exiting projects in the future.

About the author: Sara Rasmussen has served as an analyst and as a manager in EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) program for over 20 years, focusing on the areas of solid and hazardous waste and contaminated land reuse.  In 2001, shortly after it was created, she became team leader for the RCRA Reuse and Brownfields Prevention Initiative. She has been working to facilitate the cleanup and beneficial reuse of contaminated RCRA Corrective Action sites ever since.

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

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

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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Region 2 Solar Project Team Visits MSW Landfills

Colleen Kokas (NJDEP), Sarah Gentile, and Fernando Rosado taking a SunEye reading

By EPA Region 2 Solar Team

Walking across an open field approaching a forested border near a bend in the Delaware River on an October morning, you might not be surprised to hear that we spotted an American eagle taking flight as we unknowingly approached him. But you might be surprised that our group, composed of federal and state scientists/engineers, along with local officials, was walking through the Harrison Avenue Landfill in Camden, NJ during a site visit to assess the feasibility of installing a solar energy system.

As part of on-going EPA efforts for siting solar energy projects on closed municipal landfills under the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative, we recently teamed up with staff from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the New Jersey Department Environmental Protection’s Office of Sustainability and Green Energy to visit 10 closed municipal landfills located in North, Central, and South Jersey. We were offered vistas such as the skyline of New York City with migratory birds in the foreground from Linden Landfill; the Lower New York Harbor from Belford Landfill; and varied natural landscapes from the hilly northern suburbs to the forested Pine Barrens and coastal plain of southern New Jersey.

Although we were initially concerned with town reactions to EPA presence, local officials expressed great interest

Sarah Gentile, Colleen Kokas (NJDEP), Fernando Rosado, and John Koechley discussing the site with Jimmy Salasovich (NREL)

in landfill-based solar projects which seems to be part of a growing national trend. Towns openly embraced us and allowed us to begin our solar efforts on their landfills. As we departed from landfills, we committed to review the solar data and produce feasibility reports for our new local partners. We intend to deliver a meaningful solar feasibility reports and use EPA tools like the new release of “Best Practices for Siting Solar PV on MSW Landfills” document which will provide us with more technical considerations when installing these systems.

With thousands of closed landfills nationwide the potential to use this renewable technology in all regions and our current studies will lead to design and construction of solar array systems.

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About the authors: The EPA Region 2 Solar Team consists of six members, all with varying disciplines, geology/hydrology, engineers, technical support, scientist, division chief. Note: all work on the R2 Landfill Solar initiative by the staff is done in addition to their regular functions. For more information, contact (212) 637- 4354 Vince Pitruzzello or (212) 637-4346 Fernando Rosado.

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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