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Brownfields Reclaimed for Clean Energy and New Green Jobs

us epa steps up efforts to reclaim brownfields for generating renewable energyIt’s a sustainable cure for the industrial hangover: take those old abandoned factories, former mines and dump sites, and use them as sites for solar, wind, hydropower, and other clean energy.  The EPA has powered up a formerly patchwork reclamation effort into a program called Re-Powering America’s Lands that is also designed to bring new green jobs into communities distressed by factory closings.


We’ve written about the link between green jobs and brownfields reclamation before at CleanTechnica, and Environmental Leader has a nice article up on the topic that mentions some of the individual projects.  It’s worth taking a look at the details to see how brownfields reclamation is unlocking a great potential for economic growth that in many cases has been languishing for decades.

Wind Farm Brings a 30-Year-Old Corpse to Life

The “corpse” is 30 acres of unused land stretching over 2.2 miles of Lake Erie shoreline (wow!), the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Mill in Lackawanna.  Only 6 miles from Buffalo, the mill employed a peak of 20,000 before closing in the 1970’s, which means all that prime property has been blighting the area for more than 30 years.  Lackawanna alone lost 30% of its population.  On top of that, contamination on the site precluded redevelopment for most purposes.  However, because wind turbines can be built with a minimum of soil disruption, the location was suitable for a new wind farm (pdf) called Steelwinds.

Largest Urban Solar Project will Power Up a Navy Yard

This project illustrates how clean energy can coexist with other uses in densely packed urban areas (try that with a coal mine!).  The 1,000-acre former Philadelphia Navy Yard built its last ship in 1970, and by 2000 a rehab effort went underway that to date has resulted in the siting of 80 new businesses with more than 7500 employees.  Now seven acres of the site will also house a 1.5 megawatt solar energy installation (pdf), believed to be the largest urban solar array in the U.S.

Renewable Energy Brings Jobs to Where the People Are

When a major employer leaves a community, many residents have to pack up and leave in search of jobs.  That leaves the community stuck with excess infrastructure in the form of abandoned homes and businesses, and underused schools, hospitals, roads, sewage treatment facilities and utility lines, in addition to being saddled with an abandoned industrial site.  While all this languishes, other communities have to grow and build to accommodate newcomers, and – hey, wouldn’t it make more sense to reduce some of that moving around, and just bring new jobs back into communities that are already set up to accommodate population growth? The Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Fairless Hills near the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border once hosted a steel mill, and after 20 years of inactivity it has been redeveloped as a solar and wind power manufacturing hub (pdf alert) employing hundreds of people in new green jobs.

Cleaning Up Contaminated Sites with Clean Energy

At the Summitville Mine Superfund Site in Colorado’s Rio Grande County, a new hydroelectric plant is generating carbon-free power (pdf) to run a new water treatment plant on the site.  Summitville Mine was abandoned in 1992, leaving a toxic brew of copper, cadmium, manganese, zinc, lead, nickel, aluminum, iron, and acid mine drainage in surface water on the site.  The renewable electricity was enough to partly offset the cost of running an older treatment plant on the site, and enough to fully offset a new, more energy efficient treatment plant.  Using renewable energy and other low-carbon cleanup strategies for contaminated sites is part of a comprehensive U.S. EPA green remediation program.

Renewable Clean-up that Makes Lemonade out of Lemon Peels

Ten miles east of Los Angeles lies a 190 acre dump called the Operating Industries, Inc. Landfill Site, which for many years assaulted nearby communities with noxious odors (about 20,000 people live within three miles of the site).  To add to the trouble, the dump was contaminated with organic and inorganic compounds that could leach into the water table.  A treatment plant was built on site to tackle that problem.  As for the odor, much of that methane gas generated by municipal solid waste (lemon peels, right?) on the site.  A landfill gas capture facility (pdf) was added to the site.  Aside from addressing the odor problem (an probably giving a boost to property values), six microturbines at the gas facility now provide about 80% of the energy needed to run the treatment plant.

Image: Abandoned industrial site by The Birkes on

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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