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Siting a solar farm on brownfields, landfills, and former industrial sites

Siting a solar farm on brownfields, landfills, and former industrial sites

Four beneficial reasons to consider turning a brownfield into a brightfield

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there are over 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. The question is: How do we use this land in a way that both protects the environment and creates a lasting impact for surrounding communities? One answer gaining interest nationwide is solar development.

When siting solar on a brownfield, it’s then coined a brightfield.

A brownfield is “a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” When siting solar on a brownfield, it’s then coined a brightfield.

Brownfields seep with opportunity for second use. Here are four reasons you should consider a brownfield when siting a solar farm:

1. Existing infrastructure

Many brownfields have, or are surrounded by, existing infrastructure, making implementation and use of solar fields attractive. Infrastructure, such as roads, transmission corridors, and load demand, not only simplifies siting a solar field but may also present cost-saving opportunities.

2. Geographic advantages

Brownfields often involve large, flat swaths of land located in areas that experience less public opposition than more traditional greenfield sites. The EPA tracks potentially contaminated and underutilized properties nationwide and estimates there are 22 million acres of land across 13,000 sites that could be re-powered.

3. Funding

There are an increasing number of U.S. states that recognize the benefits of repurposing brownfield sites and are creating funding programs to develop solar. With incentives or grants to help with development, and possible lease agreements with developers, siting on brownfields can shorten permitting and zoning timeframes.

In fact, the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides incentives to those siting solar farms on brownfield sites. Solar projects placed in service after January 1, 2023 can earn an additional 10% ITC bonus if built in an energy community. An energy community is defined as:

  • A brownfield site (as defined under CERCLA)
  • An area that has or had significant employment related to the coal, oil, or gas industry and has an unemployment rate at or above the national average
  • A census tract or adjoining tract on which a coal mine closed after December 31, 1999 or a coal-fired electric power plant was retired after December 31, 2009

4. Environmental impact

Brownfield sites often already have baseline environmental data gathered. In 2021, 46% of new electric capacity added to the grid came from solar; re-powering brownfields supports renewable energy implementation and gives second life to land that might otherwise go unused.

When considering the site of your next solar farm, be sure to keep these four brownfield land benefits in mind.

A shining example

The State of Michigan is leading by example and siting renewable energy on state properties and lands. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is repurposing two former mining properties as large-scale solar power developments. These solar developments will be located on two state-acquired properties: the former Groveland Mine in Dickinson County and the former 7 Mile Pit in Crawford County.

Interested in other re-powering projects? EPA’s Re-Powering Benefits Matrix details recent projects, a summary of benefits, and emerging trends.

To learn more about Barr’s work with renewable energy on brownfields, contact us and check out this fact sheet.

About the author

Sarah Johnson, senior environmental consultant, manages multidisciplinary teams in the renewable energy, power, fuels, and mining sectors across the Upper Midwest and Intermountain West. She specializes in environmental review impact assessments; permitting and consultation at the local, state, federal, and tribal levels; and construction compliance oversight. Sarah works with clients and teams to identify permitting strategies, design projects that minimize impacts, and navigate regulatory processes.

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