It’s estimated that by 2030, U.S. electricity demand will increase by approximately 30%. Meeting this demand will require the construction of 320 new mid-size coal plants, or about 16 new plants permitted and built every year from now until 2030. Between the capital outlays and the complex permitting and regulatory process required to get coal plants built, greater reliance on coal is not the answer to future energy demands.
Utilizing land in areas with high-quality renewable energy resources (e.g. sun, wind) is an increasingly important part of our energy plan. To further the use of renewable energy sources, EPA recently released a draft management plan describing steps to advance the construction of solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy sources at 11,000 contaminated sites, comprising almost 15 million acres.
Using contaminated sites for renewable energy projects makes a lot of sense. Renewable energy projects generally require large amounts of land, which can be found at many presently unused, contaminated sites. Permitting should be easier because renewable energy project siting will result in the cleanup of contaminated land that is not suitable for other uses, returning the land to productive use and getting it back on the tax rolls. Unlike off-shore wind farms, opponents will have a hard time garnering support to block projects that will not only clean up blighted properties that drag down surrounding property values, but will provide important revenue for the host community and create badly-needed jobs.
To fully realize the potential of siting renewable energy projects on contaminated land, EPA and local governments will need to address liability issues. To take on projects on contaminated land, proponents will need certainty that they are not opening up a hornet’s nest of costly liablity problems. Current Brownfields protections are not strong enough to encourage robust redevelopment of contaminated sites. Unless liability protections for renewable energy projects are strong and clear, few of these projects will get built. Comments on EPA’s draft plan are being taken until November 30, 2010.