Renewable Energy Plants: Rightly Transforming Brownfields to Brightfields

On the topic of renewable energy plants: There is a lot of demand for renewable energy—specifically from solar energy farms, land-based wind farms, and sea-based wind turbines. For 2017, new solar energy plants coming online will add 12,600 megawatts to the grid. The Annapolis Renewable Energy Park is just a small part of that new energy output. However, it is a bold action that is significant in another way. The park will be using 80 acres of a former landfill in Anne Arundel County, which makes it the largest non-federally funded solar energy farm on a closed landfill.

The exact cost of the Anne Arundel facility is still to be determined, but it is covered in an agreement with the Building Energy, S.p.A.—an Italian renewable energy company—via its American subsidiary, Building Energy Development US LLC. BQ Energy LLC will construct the energy farm and then turn it over to Building Energy Devt. Markedly, BQ Energy specializes in turning brownfields into brightfields—which is a fortunate fact for the future of renewable energy plants. Notably, the Annapolis project was signed in 2015, for a 20-year lease. Annapolis will earn an average of $260,000 annually for the property lease.

Shedding Light on Brownfields and Brightfields

Brownfields are land which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared to have the potential presence or the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. These are usually old landfills or industrial parks and factories which have been shut down. Brownfields are not much use to the community, as they cannot be used for housing, industrial or commercial buildings. A few landfills have been used to harness methane deposits—which are then harvested for energy production—while at the same time were converted into parks.

Brightfields are brownfields converted into renewable energy farms or for the use of renewable energy plants, like solar energy plants or wind turbine farms. The advantage of most brownfields is their location. They are usually near urban or heavily urbanized areas and near electric or power junctures. Sites of former industrial plants usually still have high tension electric wires nearby, making it easier and less costly to get the new energy generated into the grid.

Economics Favor Brownfields for Solar Power

a photo illustration of two fields, a brownfield full of garbage on the left and a brightfield filled with solar panels, depicting the trend of turning brownfields into brightfields amid the advancing sector of renewable energy plants
Brightfields are brownfields converted into renewable energy farms or for the use of renewable energy plants, like solar energy plants or wind turbine farms.

The economics of land-use are in favor of using brownfields. They are generally unusable, but according to the EPA, there are more than 80,000 brownfields that have already been pre-screened for possible use as brightfields. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that the country’s brownfields cover around 15 million acres. This figure is enough land to put up solar energy plants capable of generating 3 million MW, which is equivalent to the current total demand for electricity in the United States.

It is worth noting that in some places, there is almost no land available for renewable energy plants. The only viable alternative is brownfields.

Of course, there are some issues with brownfields. And the only way to deal with these issues is to take them slowly—and that takes time. These may include a raft of inspections and permits required to use these contaminated land and former landfills.

The pre-development phase can take anywhere from 18 months to 4 years before the land is ready for any construction.

Toward the Future of Renewable Energy Plants

Nevertheless, on the positive side: The Annapolis project may be the biggest brightfield solar power plant project for now—a bold leap for renewable energy plants. This bold action will be followed by others in the pipeline, including a 20 MW solar array project in Maine to be built over a capped landfill. Also, New Jersey’s PSEG is expected to add 33 MW of brightfield solar power capability to add to its existing 158 MW by 2020.

With all this progress in the renewable energy sector, the future looks ‘brighter’ indeed!

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