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.

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