Re-Powering America's Land Program

Using renewable energy to make good use of polluted land

Developers had a favorite saying  before the real estate crash. It was almost a daily refrain when I was a real estate reporter.

"Invest in land. They're not making any more of it."

Maybe not, but they are recycling it. If government leaders have their way, thousands of contaminated or otherwise unusable sites could become prime real estate for renewable energy. This Bloomberg story  refers to "good for nothing polluted land" becoming good again.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is so hot on the idea that it has published some cool tools and data that show Brownfields, landfills, contaminated sites, abandoned mines and other property suitable  for solar, wind and other types of clean energy. This spreadsheet highlights sites all across the country, including Central California. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control also is a big fan of such do-overs.

Thousands of acres from Lodi to Bakersfield and from Mariposa to Avila Beach are identified as potential  for solar and other renewables. EPA program analyst Lura Matthews, who heads up the EPA's Re-Powering America's Land program, says in a video here in the Phoenix Sun that developers can buy or lease contaminated sites without being liable for contamination they don't cause, or that was there previously.

These sites are  desirable because they frequently come with power lines, transmission capacity, rights of way in place, roads and permits - and without opposition from nearby property owners and environmentalists who also want the property reused.

Matthews said that renewable energy companies will team up with developers or other entitites to develop the sites, or entirely new business models are being created. Here's an EPA fact sheet on the program, and some case studies:

New Rifle mill site in Colorado, where solar energy powers wastewater reclamation at a former Uranium processing site, and Pemaco Superfund site in Maywood, CA, where solar PV powers a soil and groundwater treatment system at Superfund site and rooftop solar offsets power costs of water.

This seems to be an ideal marriage. Pairing bad land with good clean energy would help California meets its 33 percent renewables goal, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. It would eliminate or at lessen conflicts over habitat and prime farm land.