Re-energizing Communities through RE-Powering

By Katie Brown

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Growing up in the 80’s, I learned a dance that went with those words. There will be no demonstrations, but think of the hustle: Do the recycle. Do-do-do…da…do-do-do-do.

The simple mantra has served as a guiding principle that has led me to some surprising ventures, including this latest jump into contaminated lands. The RE-Powering America’s Land program promotes the redevelopment of potentially contaminated sites with renewable energy. This is where reduce, reuse and recycle meet, and then some.

Reduce through Reuse: By repurposing contaminated land for clean energy production, we are able to preserve valuable open space. With the distributed vs. central generation debate in the background, I find inspiration in this straight-forward development approach. Put pollution-free, renewable generation capacity on damaged land. Make use of the good stuff: hike the woods, prairies, and deserts; farm the arable land; play in the parks.

Reuse to Recycle: Many contaminated sites are located in urban areas, generally in economically depressed neighborhoods. By installing renewable energy on this land, we are not only reusing the land but also creating an asset that will serve the community for decades to come.

Building on existing success stories, the RE-Powering America’s Land program is launching feasibility studies at 26 sites throughout the country. The sites have been selected based on proposals from community stakeholders, with backing from the utilities.

Partnering with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the RE-Power studies will provide a detailed assessment of the potential for renewable energy development at each site. The sites range from landfills to mines to former manufacturing plants. In the future, many will provide green power from solar, wind, biopower, or geothermal sources. This effort represents a shift in community thinking about contaminated land use and sustainability.

RE-Powering gives the communities the technical assistance to evaluate the potential for a site. From there, the communities will engage with developers and financiers to move forward with promising projects. It further empowers communities to set the course for redevelopment and energize their homes and businesses in a new way.

Reduce the need to convert open space for industrial needs. Reuse previously-developed land for a green-energy future. Recycle blight into community assets. Now that’s a dance I can do.

About the author: Katie Brown is the AAAS S&T fellow hosted in the Center for Program Analysis in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Prior to her fellowship, Katie worked in the solar industry in product development and at NREL on device design and government-industry partnerships.

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