Held in New Orleans from Monday through Wednesday, the Brownfields 2009 Conference is the largest conference in the U.S. focused on environmental revitalization and economic redevelopment of contaminated land, which are known as brownfields. This year’s conference focused several sessions on the topic of placing renewable energy projects such as wind farms and solar energy facilities on brownfields and old mining sites in order to make these sites productive again.

More and more local governments are looking for sustainable reuses of their brownfields. New case studies from the field show that having a joint planning process and integrating low-cost/high-reward renewable energy projects into brownfield redevelopment have a tremendous impact on community sustainability goals. Making these new renewable energy programs work requires a good vision and a community-wide planning process.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) Center for Program Analysis is seeking opportunities to facilitate the reuse of contaminated properties and active and abandoned mine sites for clean and renewable energy generation.

Future Need for Increased Electricity Production

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2008 Annual Energy Outlook report, by 2030 U.S. electricity production will need to increase by nearly 30% to meet growing demand. It is estimated that the equivalent of more than 320 midsize, coal-fired power plants would be needed to increase U.S. electricity production capacity to meet this rising electricity demand.

As communities become more concerned about the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, clean and renewable energy technologies will play a greater role in meeting future electricity demand. Currently, wind, solar, and biomass facilities supply 2.3% of U.S. electricity, according to the EIA report. While these clean and renewable sources currently make up only a small fraction of energy production, clean and renewable energy production is expected to increase by more than 70% between 2006 and 2030. Identifying and using land located in areas with high-quality clean and renewable energy resources will be an essential component of developing more electricity from clean and renewable energy sources.

Large Number of U.S. Brownfields

The EPA estimates that it is tracking approximately 480,000 sites and almost 15 million acres of contaminated properties across the U.S. This estimate includes Superfund sites, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste sites, brownfields, and abandoned mine lands. Cleanup goals have been achieved and controls put in place to ensure long-term protection for more than 850,000 acres. Through coordination and partnerships among federal, state, tribal, and other government agencies, utilities, communities, and the private sector, many new clean and renewable energy facilities can be developed on these contaminated properties.

Advantages of Using Brownfields for Renewable Energy Projects

Brownfields are environmentally and economically beneficial for siting clean and renewable energy facilities for the following reasons:
•    Brownfields generally have existing transmission capacity and infrastructure in place and adequate zoning.
•    Using brownfields takes the stress off undeveloped lands for construction of new energy facilities, preserving the land carbon sink.
•    Renewable energy projects provide an economically viable reuse for sites with significant cleanup costs or low real estate development demand.
•    These projects provide job opportunities in urban and rural communities.
•    These projects advance cleaner and more cost-effective energy technologies and reduce the environmental impacts of energy systems by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the EPA, there are a large number of potential partners and stakeholders that could promote such projects in the U.S.:
•    Clean and renewable energy suppliers, including independent system operators
•    Utilities
•    Public utility commissions
•    Developers
•    Investors
•    Public and private land owners
•    Mining industry
•    EPA regions/headquarters
•    Other federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
•    State entities, including environmental, energy, and economic development departments
•    Tribal governments and communities
•    Communities, local governments, and chambers of commerce
•    Environmental organizations.

The EPA website (PDF) provides additional information about its new initiative to promote these types of brownfield redevelopment projects.

Sources: 2009 Brownfields Conference website, EPA, and EIA