The EPA and NREL are set this month to announce a formal partnership to conduct detailed feasibility studies at 13 contaminated sites, Swingle said. The goal, she said, is to determine what would be required, both technologically and economically, to clean and reuse the sites to house renewable energy projects.
The EPA has also identified 15 abandoned hardrock mines, located mostly in the West, where it has rated wind-energy potential to be excellent, outstanding or superb, said Shahid Mahmud, co-chairman of the federal agency's national mining team. The next step is to study the contamination levels at each site, with the idea of promoting them to the energy
industry as suitable for reuse.
"We want to push these contaminated sites and really encourage these things to happen," he said, "because the sooner we can get it done the better off we are from the environmental and climate change perspective."
This approach appeals to the wind-power industry, "Because at the end of the day the No. 1 priority from the developer's perspective is the wind resource itself," said Christine Real De Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.
"There's no reason why (wind farms) would not be compatible with a lot of industrial sites," she said.
The EPA in November will kick off a series of five national workshops to allow state and local leaders, renewable energy developers and conservation groups to brainstorm. "The idea is to get them all together and say, 'Okay, we have all this great (disturbed) land, we don't want to see
development of greenfield sites, what do we do next?' " Swingle said. The kickoff meeting is scheduled in Detroit, in part because Michigan has some of the best brownfield redevelopment potential.
Researchers this year identified 44,000 acres of brownfield sites in the state that are suitable for harvesting wind and solar power, according to a study conducted by Michigan State University's Land Policy Institute and the National Center for Neighborhood and Brownfields Redevelopment at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
If each site was redeveloped with solar arrays and wind farms, according to the study, they could produce an estimated 5,855 megawatts of electricity--enough to power 1.8 million homes, or roughly half the homes in Michigan.
"These are sites where you're not going to have much resistance for reuse, in areas where they really need jobs," Soji Adelaja, director of MSU's Land Policy Institute in East Lansing, Mich. "It's a no-brainer concept."
Indeed, legal challenges to renewable energy projects have been a huge roadblock, particularly on federal land.
Example: Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource Energy Inc. last month scrapped plans to build a solar power plant on 5,130 acres in the Mojave Desert in southern California after months of protest from environmental groups concerned that the project would threaten important habitat for bighorn sheep.
Recognizing the importance of proper siting, the Bureau of Land Management has embarked on a groundbreaking pilot project in Arizona to locate suitable industrial sites for renewable energy.
The BLM asked state and county leaders, private landowners and conservation groups in May to nominate contaminated or disturbed sites in the state that would be suitable for solar power. A total of 46 sites covering at least 25,000 acres have been nominated, ranging from gravel
pits to landfills, said Terri Raml, BLM's project manager for the Restoration Design Energy Project.
The agency plans to survey each parcel, and then craft a single environmental impact statement that establishes the criteria for reclaiming disturbed and contaminated sites in the state before reusing them for renewable energy. The BLM, which has a backlog of more than 400 wind and solar permit applications, plans to make these sites available to solar-power developers, Raml said.