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Learn More About RE-Powering

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What is RE-Powering?

EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative encourages renewable energy development on current and formerly contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites when such development is aligned with the community’s vision for the site. The Initiative identifies the renewable energy potential of these sites and provides other useful resources for communities, developers, industry, state and local governments or anyone interested in reusing these sites for renewable energy development.

Potentially contaminated land includes sites where contamination is suspected but has not been confirmed and sites where contamination has been identified. Targeted sites include brownfields, superfund sites, sites subject to corrective action under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), mining sites, and landfills.

RE-Powering has facilitated redevelopment efforts to reuse abandoned industrial sites for wind farms and former landfills for solar arrays. These projects generate returns nationwide from Georgia to Massachusetts, New York to California. These projects not only advance cleaner and more cost effective energy technologies and but also reduce the environmental impacts of energy systems.

Want more information on RE-Powering?  Contact a member of the RE-Powering Response Team.

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Why Site Renewable Energy on Contaminated Lands?

Potentially contaminated land, landfills, and mine sites can offer significant advantages over other sites, such as open space, for renewable energy development. Some of these sites have unique attributes that can lower development costs and shorten development timeframes. Many of these properties can offer developers a unique value proposition for renewable energy deployment and the ability to:

  • Leverage existing infrastructure
  • Reduce project cycle times through streamlined permitting and zoning
  • Improve project economics with reduced land costs and tax incentives
  • Gain community support through land revitalization efforts
  • Protect open space

The Potential Advantages of Reusing Potentially Contaminated Land for Renewable Energy document describes many of these potential benefits in detail.

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What are the Benefits of these Projects?

Besides providing a pollution-free source of energy, siting renewable energy projects on contaminated properties can have a number of environmental and economic benefits. Through reuse of these sites, communities see a property that had been vacant or underutilized for many years turned into a facility that may help improve the local tax base, create jobs, and turn blight into an economic opportunity.

This approach not only reuses the land, but turns a potential liability into an asset that will serve the community for decades to come. Publicly available, stakeholder-reported information indicates that communities, private site-owners, and consumers have saved millions of dollars in energy costs, created construction jobs, and received new property tax revenue as a result of reusing these sites for renewable energy. The economic benefits most commonly touted for renewable energy on contaminated land are electricity cost savings, additional land lease revenue to the town or city site owner, and increased tax payments for the land and/or renewable energy systems to the local municipality and/or state.

Cost savings can vary across installations, since they are determined by tax and renewable energy incentives, renewable energy policies such as Renewable Portfolio Standards, local electricity rates, and power purchase agreement terms. In some cases, the site owner agrees to lease the land to the renewable energy developer at a low rate in exchange for substantially reduced electricity charges or for other terms, creating win-win situations that benefit all parties. Other benefits associated with developing renewable energy on contaminated lands include job creation and the use of local businesses to construct these projects.

Here are a few examples of some of the economic benefits realized through this type of development:

  • Scituate Landfill

    This former 29-acre municipal solid waste landfill is now home to a 3-MW solar PV system that was constructed using only local labor and will produce 3.825 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy per year.  The town leases the property to the renewable energy developer for $1 per year and expects $200,000 in annual savings from its ability to receive credit for the power sent to the grid (net metering).  The town also received assurance by maintaining the option to cancel the entire contract if the project remained incomplete as of an agreed-upon deadline. The developer has also partnered with town officials and school personnel to develop and implement a solar curriculum for K-12 students in the town. In combination with a nearby wind turbine (not on contaminated land), the landfill solar installation provides Scituate with 100% of its municipal power needs from renewable sources.

  • Apache Powder

    Despite the small 1.4 kW capacity of this combined solar and wind installation, its economic benefit is still significant. Combined, the solar and wind systems power ongoing groundwater clean-up activities at this former chemicals and explosives manufacturing Superfund site. The renewable energy systems reduce the 30-year clean-up cost from $25 million to approximately $2.5 million. The overall cost of the solar system and windmill pump was three times less expensive than the cost to run power lines and pay for electricity at remote areas of the 1,100-acre site. This installation demonstrates the value in using renewable energy for remediation on contaminated sites, particularly when power is needed in areas that are removed from grid infrastructure.

  • Bethlehem Steel Winds

    This 35-MW wind installation on a former steel production site in Lackawanna, NY, took land that had been idle for 20 years and returned it to productive use. Manufacturing activities left the 1,600-acre location contaminated with steel slag and industrial waste, but it was cleaned up pursuant to RCRA corrective action. In the early 2000s, changes in New York State law provided financial and legal incentives to investigate and remediate contaminated sites and return them to productive use. At the same time, the University of Buffalo published a study identifying the waterfront surrounding the Bethlehem Steel site as a potential location for wind energy, which generated interest from developers. Because of the wind installation, a 30-acre tract of the site now provides approximately $190,000 in annual tax revenues for local communities and school districts. The two-phase wind installation also created a total of 140 construction jobs and five permanent jobs in an area with high unemployment.

  • Brick Township Landfill

    The 42-acre Brick Township Landfill Superfund site lies between the Garden State Parkway and Sally Ike Road in New Jersey.  The Township and the solar developer entered into a redevelopment agreement in 2011.  The following year, the solar developer made a $2.5 million lease payment in advance to the Township for the 15-year lease of the site—a vital source of revenue for the Township for the overall project’s success.

    In October 2014, the 7-MW solar facility was completed.  By May 2015, the solar facility had generated 3 million kilowatt-hours of power, offsetting as much carbon dioxide as 60,000 trees. The solar project provides all the electricity needed by the Township government, with excess electricity sold onto the grid.

    When the 15-year lease ends, the Township will assume ownership of the solar field. The solar field will provide free electricity to the Township, providing a cost savings of $500,000 to $600,000 per year. Allowing for the solar panels’ decreased efficiency over time, the panels will still provide more than 3.5 MW in 15 years’ time, enough to supply all of the electricity needed by the municipal government.

  • Reilly Tar & Chemical

    The 10.8-MW Maywood Solar Farm covers 43 acres of the Reilly Tar & Chemical (Indianapolis Plant) Superfund site.  The developer estimates that electricity generated from Maywood Solar Farm will help reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 13,235 metric tons per year – equal to the amount of annual carbon produced for energy use in more than 1,800 residential homes.

    The total cost of the project was about $30 million. Of that amount, about $4 to $6 million was invested in the local economy in the form of labor, construction costs and materials. The project created around 75 to 100 jobs during construction and will continue to have a positive impact on the economy through ongoing contracts for equipment and labor with local firms during the 15 to 35 year operating period tied to operation of the facility.

  • Dayton Tech Town

    Located in a mixed use area in downtown Dayton, Ohio, Dayton Tech Town is now a premier technology-oriented business campus.  The Creative Technology Accelerator (CTA), one of the three buildings located in Tech Town and on what was the formerly contaminated GM Harrison Radiator complex, was designed as a sustainable facility that includes a geothermal heating and cooling system.  The site is being addressed under an agreement between the Ohio EPA Voluntary Action Program (VAP) and U.S. EPA’s RCRA Corrective Action Program.  Expected annual savings for development are over $66,000 and 300,000 kilowatt-hours/year related to the geothermal system and other sustainable building practices.

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What if Cleanup Activities are Ongoing?

Accidents, spills, leaks, past improper disposal and handling of hazardous materials and wastes have resulted in tens of thousands of contaminated lands in the United States. EPA and its partners work to address contamination at many of these sites and encourage the restoration of such land for community reuse.

Many potentially contaminated or underused properties will undergo an environmental assessment and inevitably require little or no cleanup. Others will require minimal to substantial cleanup before the sites can be returned to productive reuse.

Nonetheless, renewable energy development processes can often occur prior to and even during cleanup activities (i.e., while addressing environmental issues). Learn more about:

The Handbook on Siting Renewable Energy Projects While Addressing Environmental Issues introduces typical cleanup and reuse processes and the renewable energy project development process, including the unique siting opportunities and potential benefits associated with this reuse.

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