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.

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