The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have jointly created a tool to make it easier to judge the viability of contaminated land for use in solar and wind energy projects.
Designed for energy developers, the “decision trees” (solar_decision_tree.pdf) enable state and local governments, landowners, and clean-up project managers to evaluate the 11,000 potentially contaminated properties (nearly 15 million acres) in the U.S. which could be used for renewable energy projects. Combined, the sites are estimated to be able to provide over one million megawatts (MW) of renewable energy generation potential, enough to power 2 to 3 million homes annually.
The decision trees use a three step process to evaluate Superfund sites, nuclear waste sites, old coal mines, landfills, parking lots, and other hazardous waste sites for solar potential and other alternative energy projects. Taking into account location, land-use restrictions, distance from transmission lines, community support, and other considerations, the trees act as a pre-screen of potential sites before money is spent and detailed site assessments are done. If a site doesn’t pass the inexpensive pre-screening, energy planners can move on to consider another parcel or location prior to making large investments of time and money.
Because cities and towns are often against allowing prime real estate to be covered with solar arrays or wind turbines, finding alternatives on local contaminated land could serve to turn previously unusable land into something positive for the community. New solar, wind, and geothermal projects on these lands will result in site remediation, clean energy sources, and a reduction of harmful emissions, along with an increase in property values, additional tax revenue and more local jobs.
Richmond, Calif. is the pilot community for the decision tree program. For more information, visit the Siting Renewable Energy on Potentially Contaminated Land and Mine Sites page over the EPA site.
Photo from EPA