EPA creates renewable energy potential site map

By Kris Bevill
Web exclusive posted Sept. 25, 2008 at 3:15 p.m. CST

The U.S. EPA has identified and released comprehensive data listing thousands of previously contaminated sites throughout the U.S. that hold potential to become renewable energy production sites. Interactive maps and other information are available at http://www.epa.gov/renewableenergyland/.

"EPA is putting renewable energy production on the virtual map," EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said. "Our new interactive Web site encourages states and energy companies to put previously contaminated properties back to work."

The purpose of the project was to promote new uses for contaminated lands and mining sites that may be unsuitable for other purposes. With the assistance of the U.S. DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the EPA developed a database of abandoned mine lands, Brownfields, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sites and Superfund sites, extracted the sites with workable acreage and location data, and applied a list of criteria to each site.

Each site was evaluated to determine its attributes for dry-mill corn ethanol, biopower, sun or wind production.

Screening criteria for a site's biomass potential included:
  • Distance to electric transmission lines of 10 miles or less

  • Property size of 50 acres or more

  • Distance to graded roads of 50 miles or less

  • Biopower: cumulative biomass residue of at least 150,000 tons per year (including residues from crops, forests and mills; methane emissions; urban wood waste and energy crops.

  • Dry mill corn ethanol: crop biomass residue of at least 100,000 ton per year

Over 9,500 sites were scrutinized for the maps. Nearly 9,000 of those sites received the ranking of "outstanding" for biopower potential. Almost 300 sites were ranked "excellent" and 349 sites were rated "very good."

The EPA said the interactive maps will be useful to land developers, environmental managers, communities and local, state and federal government officials, as well as those in private industries interested in getting into the renewable energy business sector.

According to the EPA, there are several benefits to locating renewable energy projects on such sites. There are thousands of acres of land throughout the United States that have been determined to be contaminated by the EPA and many of these sites can be acquired for lower overall costs than previously undeveloped sites. The sites reviewed by the EPA have existing electrical transmission lines and access to other critical infrastructure, such as roads, further reducing initial development costs. Converting contaminated sites for renewable energy projects lessens the demand for development of previously untouched acreage, and many times would re-invigorate a local community's economy that may have suffered job losses when the previous site was abandoned.