New tools help renewable projects get off the ground

By Ben Delman on November 6, 2015

Contaminated land doesn’t have to be a community eyesore. More and more, these areas are being re-used as renewable energy generation sites. More than 150 such projects, totaling more than 1 GW of energy, have already been completed. New tools developed by the EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative are designed to help community members who want to put bad land to good use.

The agency has developed a mapped inventory of more than 80,000 superfund, abandoned mine, landfill, and brownfield sites. At more than 43 million acres, the size of the mapped area is larger than the state of Florida.

The mapping dataset includes a categorization of these areas based upon work done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The screens include metrics to help interested parties determine the site’s suitability to developing renewable energy projects. These metrics include the size of the site, distance to roads, and distance to transmission lines.

The tool is free for public use and is designed for a wide audience. Community groups, municipalities, and developers are encouraged to take advantage of the data set to see where renewable energy opportunities exist in their communities.

The agency’s resources aren’t limited to the mapping tool. The agency has also developed a guidebook for developing solar energy on landfill sites. The guidebook is designed to help those interested in developing these projects overcome roadblocks. Roadblocks include liability issues associated with siting projects on this type of land; getting project financing; and navigating local utility policies and regulations.

The agency is interested to work with groups to help them find an off-taker for the electricity a renewable energy project produces. It will work to facilitate by matching people and organization with funding sources as well as provide expertise to successfully complete projects.

To further their goal, this month the agency released an electronic decision tree to help facilitate the early stage development of projects. The tree takes users through a series of yes/no questions designed to help guide people through the process of siting solar or wind projects on the type of sites detailed in the mapping tool. The decision tree includes suggestions to help users answer its screening questions. Once users complete the tree they are given a printable report that summarizes screening questions answers. This initial report can help non-experts interested in developing projects get their efforts off the ground.

One well-known example of this process is the solar field at Nellis Air Force Base. The 14 MW solar field is built atop a 33-acre site of a former landfill. The project provides power for about a quarter of the base’s needs, saving it more than $1 million annually.

The EPA is hopeful these new resources will encourage more projects like this one. Are you working on a renewable energy landfill project in your community? Would you like to? Let us know.