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.

Just before Thanksgiving, I traveled to Boston to check in with some of these projects. Massachusetts is leading the way by providing incentives and support from their state environmental and energy programs. I met with state and federal regulators, local governments with successfully completed projects in their backyards, renewable energy developers and financers. We talked about Massachusetts’ successful projects on Superfund sites and identified areas of collaboration to get the next generation of renewable energy projects developed sooner.

I also had the privilege of awarding our Region 1 office’s first ever “Superfund Excellence in Site Reuse” awards to two projects. The first recognized the project team that turned Sullivan’s Ledge, a former quarry in New Bedford where hazardous wastes were disposed, into a 1.8 megawatt solar installation that will save $2.7 million over its 20-year life. The team placed an impermeable cap over the quarry pits that was then covered with 5,000 solar panels. The second award recognized the team behind the 6 megawatt solar installation that sits atop the Shaffer Landfill, a 60-acre former municipal solid waste landfill located in Billerica. The Shaffer Landfill is part of the 533-acre Iron Horse Park Superfund site, an industrial complex with a long history that includes manufacturing and rail yard maintenance facilities, open storage areas, landfills and wastewater lagoons.

Across the U.S., there are at least 60 Superfund sites in planned or actual alternative energy reuse. More than 20 sites are already up and running, with some exporting power to the grid and others offsetting onsite energy demands. Some have systems to convert methane gas — a potent greenhouse gas produced during natural decomposition of wastes — into an electricity source. At several Superfund sites, renewable energy technologies are even powering the site cleanup activities themselves.

The bottom line: Everyone wins when we put Superfund sites back into productive use as sources of clean, renewable energy.

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