In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released updated versions of its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tools, which provide developers and other stakeholders with data about existing opportunities for contaminated lands to be used to generate renewable forms of energy.
The RE-Powering Tools—developed in association with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory—specifically evaluate the potential to generate wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. Prior to the recent update, the data covered about 24,000 contaminated sites. However, through partnerships with local environmental officials in eight states, the EPA has been able to increase that number to 66,000.
Generating renewable energy from contaminated lands: A ‘win-win-win’ situation
In a press release announcing the launch of the updated mapping and screening tools, the EPA’s Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, called the RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative “a win-win-win for the nation, local communities and the environment.”
“In President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the administration set a goal to double renewable electricity generation by 2020,” Stanislaus said. “By identifying the renewable energy potential of contaminated sites across the country, these screening results are a good step toward meeting national renewable energy goals in order to address climate change, while also cleaning up and revitalizing contaminated lands in our communities.”
Since the launch of this program, developers have completed more than 70 renewable energy projects representing 215 megawatts of installed capacity—enough to power approximately 35,000 homes—at contaminated sites throughout the country. In addition to their direct contribution to the U.S. economy, these projects also help stakeholders understand the latest technological advances in remediation and renewable energy generation, which provides a strong foundation for future development.
Earlier this year, Harvard University identified the RE-Powering Initiative as one of the “Top 25 Innovations in American Government” for 2013.
Senate legislation would provide additional federal support for ‘RE-Powering’ goals
In a previous post, we discussed some elements of the Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act. One provision of the bill would empower the administrator of the EPA to provide grants of up to $500,000 to support renewable energy projects at brownfield sites. This capital could be used for a wide range of purposes, from inventory, characterization and assessment to planning, feasibility analysis, design and remediation. In addition to direct grants, the EPA would also be able to support renewable energy development through its revolving loan funds.
While ongoing disputes between lawmakers about federal spending—and the EPA’s budget in particular—may make passage of the BUILD Act unlikely, it is possible that some of the bill’s components could be included in a future legislative compromise to renew authorization for the EPA’s Brownfields Program, which lapsed in 2006. That program has also been recognized through Harvard’s innovation awards, taking the top honor in 2000.
If the Senate proposal to support renewable energy development is passed into law, it could give developers in the Southeast an incentive to take a closer look at contaminated properties they would have otherwise passed over. Organizations considering such projects should consider partnering with an environmental consulting firm that has experience in the region and can provide an aid to project managers at all stages of development, from preparing grant applications to post-remediation reporting.
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