Intelligent Energy

Renewable energy in America's wastelands

Renewable energy in America's wastelands

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A government project hopes to install wind, solar and small hydro projects in some of the country's most toxic places. A windmill in every Superfund site?

In an uncommon display of inter-agency cooperation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are teaming up to make use of our country's less desirable locales.

The Re-powering America's Lands project is assessing Superfund and brownfield sites as possible renewable energy venues. While many of the 12 sites remain stricken with industrial contamination, clean energy may be in their future.

Hopefully, clean soil and water will also be in their future.

The EPA is investing $650,000 into the project, which will assess what renewable technologies (solar, wind, hydro) would work best in each area and evaluate the energy returns and economic feasibility of each endeavor.

Reasons for choosing the toxic and/or abandoned areas include total available acreage vs. site owners, the present infrastructure (electric transmission lines, roads, water access, zoning), low real estate demand, lessening pressure for infiltrating undeveloped lands for energy development, and creating job opportunities.

The Wilderness Society states:

There is a brownfield in every Congressional district, and we also know that there is a brownfield with renewable energy potential in every state.

The 12 sites in review:

  • Alpine County, California: Leviathan Mine Superfund site (wind, solar, and hydro)
  • Riverside, California: Stringfellow Superfund site, a former hazardous waste disposal site (solar)
  • St. Marks, Florida: St. Marks Refinery brownfields (solar)
  • Shawnee, Kansas: Doepke-Holliday Superfund site, a former municipal and industrial waste landfill (wind and solar)
  • Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich, and Mashpee, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Military Reservation (solar)
  • Baraga, Michigan: Keweenaw Bay Indian community tribal brownfields (wind)
  • Onamie, Minnesota: Mille Lacs Band tribal community dump site (wind)
  • Drums, Pennsylvania: Jeddo Tunnel brownfield, an 1800s-era drainage system for four major coal basins (hydro)
  • Newport, Rhode Island: Rhode Island Naval Station Superfund site (wind, solar, other)
  • Middleton, Wisconsin: Refuse Hideaway Landfill Superfund site (solar)
  • Nitro, West Virginia: Vacant former industrial property brownfields (solar)
  • Puerto Rico: Several landfills (solar)

I live a few blocks from the Gowanus Canal. Hydropower wouldn't work in this stagnant pool of Brooklyn swill, but should a correlation exists between smell, unsightliness and energy potential, my neighborhood Superfund site has promise.

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure