Is the Building of Renewable Energy Sites on Contaminated Land a Win-Wind?
David Sims posted on August 09, 2013 | 4785 views

thomasnet, environment, contamination, epa, renewable, energy, windWhat to do with contaminated land sites is a thorny problem. It is difficult and expensive to clean up to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) exacting specifications. And nobody wants to risk lawsuits for missing an iota here or there, so they sit there, unused and unusable.

But the one agency that isn’t afraid of being sued is implementing plans to use thousands of contaminated sites across the country: the EPA. As part of a project named RE-Powering America’s Land, the agency is working to locate thousands of renewable energy installations on otherwise unusable land.

Recently the EPA announced that as part of updating its RE-Powering Mapping and  Screening Tool, which has been around for a few years, it will collect “preliminary screening results for renewable energy potential at 66,000, up from 24,000, contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites across the country.”

The idea is to put something on contaminated land, landfills, and mine sites “when it is aligned with the community’s vision for the site.” As opposed to communities whose vision is to have absolutely nothing happen on the site because of the EPA’s over-stringent regulations for cleaning it up render any attempts to use it a massive lawsuit just waiting to happen.

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“The U.S. Looks Like A Pincushion.”

And there are a lot of possible sites. Back in 2008 Mat McDermott wrote that there was a “new” Google Earth layer the EPA released, letting users see “the potential of various type of EPA-managed contaminated land for a full spectrum of renewable energy types.” As McDermott reported, when he loaded the layer, with all the defaults on, “the U.S. looks like a pincushion of colored dots.”

In theory, it’s a pretty sensible idea: “At first blush, the siting of renewable energy projects on contaminated properties may seem like an ideal reuse of environmentally compromised sites,” wrote Emily Murray, an environmental lawyer with Allen Matkins in Los Angeles, last year.

Murray hit the obvious upside to the program: “Consider the installation of a large-scale solar facility on a closed and capped landfill. The site may not be suitable for many other types of uses, and may therefore provide the solar developer with an appealing and lower-cost location.  In addition, the reuse of the site for solar energy may be attractive to the community and to the oversight agency or agencies.”

The EPA Wants To Help. Really.

The EPA wants to cooperate with private and state developers, not make life more difficult for them. “We see responsible renewable energy development on contaminated lands and landfills as a win-win-win for the nation, local communities, and the environment,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.


EPA officials said they’re pulling from “EPA databases of potentially and formerly contaminated lands, as well as partnering with state agencies from California, Hawaii, Oregon, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and Virginia to identify the sites for possible use by solar, wind, biomass, or geothermal projects.

What cleanup has to be done will be primarily the responsibility of states, not the EPA, as “the vast majority of potentially contaminated lands are most likely to be addressed by state cleanup programs, such as state superfund, brownfields, voluntary cleanup, or underground storage tank programs,” EPA officials add.

And if you do decide to clean up the site enough to get an EPA renewable energy project built there, you still have to worry about liability. Caveat emptor.

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This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted in its entirety with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends.

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