It’s not often two government agencies get together to do something that is almost inspired. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have done that by joinin forces in their evaluation of sites that could be used for renewable-energy production. These can be Superfund and brown field sites, as well as former landfills and mines. Although there are many such sites, 12 in particular will get a close look for development. They are in California, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The project will analyze the potential development of wind, solar, or small hydroelectric power facilities. Analyses will determine the best renewable energy equipment for the site, its best placement, the potential energy-generating capacity, and the economic feasibility of the renewable energy projects, including return on investment. Some sites under consideration have completed cleanup activities, while others are in various stages of assessment or cleanup.
Superfund sites are the most complex. They are often abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous-waste sites that pose a risk to human health and hence are identified for cleanup. Brown fields are properties for which expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence of contaminants. Abandoned factories are examples. The EPA is investing more than $650,000 into this project which pairs the Agency’s expertise on contaminated sites with the NREL’s renewable energy expertise.
U.S. electricity production is expected to increase by nearly 30% by 2030 to meet growing demand, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2008. It estimates the equivalent of more than 320 mid-sized, coal-fired power plants will be needed to increase U.S. electricity production to meet such growth.
Many of the sites recommended by the EPA have been overlooked by wind-plant developers. Yet the EPA lands are environmentally and economically beneficial for siting renewable energy facilities because they offer thousands of acres with few site owners. They also often have critical infrastructure in place such as electric transmission lines and roads, and they are zoned for such development. The lands also provide job opportunities and they take stress off undeveloped lands for new construction.
Renewable energy technologies will play a greater role in meeting future electricity needs. But so far, wind, solar and biomass facilities supply only 2.3% of our nation’s electricity. Yet renewable energy production is expected to increase by more than 70% between 2006 and 2030.
The project is part of a federal government RE-Powering America’s Land initiative, which aims to decrease the amount of green space used for development and provide health and economic benefits to local communities, including job creation.
The EPA estimates there are about 490,000 sites and almost 15 million acres of potentially contaminated properties across the U.S. For fact sheets on each location, and more information on the RE-Powering America’s Land initiative, check out: epa.gov/renewableenergyland/ WPE