Sunday, November 15, 2009

Steel Winds: Brownfields to Greenfields

Along with the national movement to expand renewable energy sources of electricity comes a need for appropriate land to accommodate large wind farms and solar arrays. One approach builds on the saying "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade". That approach was taken at the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawana NY near Buffalo in 2006: idle brownfields in the rustbelt were successfully re-purposed into an urban wind farm named 'Steel Winds'. The brownfields were transformed into Greenfields.

The Steel Winds project is now providing a model for the nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have now identified nearly 4,100 contaminated sites deemed economically suitable for wind and solar power development, as well as biomass, according to a Scientific American article highlighting Steel Winds.

EPA's Re-Powering America's Lands initiative was formed last year to coordinate federal efforts to encourage the use of contaminated sites for renewable energy, such as brownfields, old mines, and landfills. The EPA highlighted Steel Winds as an example in its report, and also a solar photovoltaic facility sited at a former landfill in Fort Carson, Colorado as well as other sites.

According to the EPA report, brownfields and other contaminated lands are environmentally and economically beneficial for siting clean and renewable energy facilities because they:
• Generally have existing transmission capacity, infrastructure in place and adequate zoning
• Take the stress off undeveloped lands for construction of new energy facilities, preserving the land carbon sink
• Provide an economically viable reuse for sites with significant cleanup costs or low real estate development demand
• Provide job opportunities in urban and rural communities

Environmentalists are in favor of using brownfields and landfills for clean energy development because it relieves the development pressure on pristine places.

The EPA will kick off a series of national workshops to allow state and local leaders, renewable energy developers and conservation groups to brainstorm. A brownfields conference called "Revitalization in the New Economy" was held in Colorado last week. The 13th National Brownfields Conference will take place in New Orleans this week.

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