Contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites are increasingly being used as sites for renewable energy projects. For example, many landfills may be suitable for siting solar photovoltaic panels. Former industrial sites with subsoil contamination may not be suitable for redevelopment with buildings, but may be able to host solar or wind-based electric generation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, renewable energy systems have been installed at 60 such sites in 25 states. What is the future of this trend?
EPA policy encourages renewable energy development on current and formerly
contaminated land and mine sites when it is aligned with the community’s
vision for the site. Under EPA's RE-Powering America's Land initiative, EPA identifies the renewable energy potential of these
sites and provides resources for communities, developers,
industry, state and local governments.
An EPA report released earlier this month describes 60 renewable systems installed on potentially contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites. Of these, the majority (49) generate electricity through solar photovoltaic technology. Seven generate electricity from the wind; biomass, geothermal, hydropower, and combined solar/wind round out the count. Together, these resources provide 184.7 MW of electric generation capacity. Most sell their power into the wholesale market, while some use the power on-site.
Host sites are split among private, federal, municipal, and state ownership. Sites include those regulated under EPA's Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act program (CERCLA, or Superfund), EPA's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program (RCRA), brownfields, and landfills.
Many more potential sites exist. Thousands of properties across the country face redevelopment challenges from contamination. The country is home to over 3,000 active commercial landfills and 10,000 municipal landfills. While not all may be suitable for renewable energy development, the concept offers the opportunity to create a revenue stream from property otherwise limited in use and saddled with environmental liabilities. This revenue could be used for remediation of the sites' contamination, as well as for other purposes. The trend of developing renewable energy facilities on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.