The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are looking at 12 sites in California, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
EPA will invest US$650,000 to pair its expertise on contaminated sites with the renewable energy expertise of NREL. The project is part of the RE-Powering America's Land initiative which aims to decrease the amount of green space used for development, reduce GHG emissions, and provide health and economic benefits to local communities, including job creation.
Potential for solar, wind, small hydro
The project will analyse the potential development of solar, wind or small hydro development at each of the sites, including a determination of the best technology to install, optimal location for placement of the renewable energy technology, potential generating capacity, return on investment, and economic feasibility of the renewable energy projects.
Superfund sites are the most complex, and often are uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites identified by EPA for cleanup due to the risk they pose to human health or environment. Brownfields are properties at which expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence of contaminants.
Some of the sites under consideration have completed cleanup activities, while others are in various stages of assessment or cleanup. Renewable energy projects on these sites will be designed to accommodate the specific conditions at each site.
Demand for power to increase
Electricity generation in the USA will need to increase by 30% and the equivalent of 320 coal-fired power plants will be needed to meet this demand, explains NREL. “As communities become more concerned about the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, renewable energy technologies will play a greater role in meeting future electricity demand.”
Currently, wind, solar and biomass facilities supply 2.3% of US electricity but this is expected to increase by 70% by 2030. “Identifying and using land located in areas with high quality renewable energy resources will be an essential component of developing more electricity from renewable energy sources.”
The EPA estimates that there are 490,000 sites and 15 million acres of potentially contaminated properties across the USA, and NREL says solar photovoltaic (PV) (“the best-suited solar technology for low solar resource areas”) requires 2-12 acres of land per MW of installed capacity. In 14 states with a current renewable portfolio standard, installed solar capacity is expected to grow from 550 to 6700 MW by 2025, requiring thousands of acres of land, it explains.
Renewable energy well-suited for contaminated lands
“Siting renewable energy facilities, including solar facilities, on potentially contaminated land and mining sites, can reduce pressure on greenfields for siting these facilities,” and developing solar facilities on contaminated or abandoned mine land can provide “an economically viable reuse option for sites with significant cleanup costs or if local economic conditions prohibit traditional reuse of the site.”
These sites may also have existing transmission capacity, roads and other critical infrastructure in place, as well as industrial zoning adequate for renewable energy projects.
Current developments for renewable energies
Some of the renewable energy development on contaminated land includes:
- Steel Winds Wind Farm, Lackawanna, NY: 8 wind turbines installed on an old slag pile at the Bethlehem Steel site, produces electricity to power 7000 homes;
- Fort Carson Landfill Solar Development, Fort Carson, CO: 2 MW solar array built on 12 acres of a former landfill;
- New Rifle Mill Site, CO: 2.3 MW PV solar system powers reclamation of contaminated wastewater;
- Pemaco Superfund Site, Maywood, CA, rooftop solar PV panels offset power costs of water pumping and treatment, US$21,000 investment in solar energy saves US$3,000 a year.
“With the right mix of targeted policies, utility-scale solar generation is possible anywhere the sun shines,” says an NREL background document. “Solar energy generation is poised for growth across the USA and potentially contaminated land and mining sites can provide an ideal location for these facilities.”
In September 2008, EPA launched the RE-Powering America's Land initiative to promote renewable energy on potentially-contaminated land and mining sites. It partnered with NREL on an initial screening to determine sites that may be used for renewable energy projects.
NREL is the Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy, and is operated for DoE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy.