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EPA To Reuse Toxic Sites For Renewable Energy 183

Posted by kdawson
from the brown-to-green dept.
Hugh Pickens writes:"The Daily Climate reports that President Obama and Congress are pushing to identify thousands of contaminated landfills and abandoned mines — 'brownfields' that could be repurposed to house wind farms, solar arrays, and geothermal power plants. Using already disturbed lands would help avoid conflicts between renewable energy developers and environmental groups concerned about impacts to wildlife habitat. 'In the next decade there's going to be a lot of renewable energy built, and all that has to go somewhere,' said Jessica Goad, an energy and climate change policy fellow for The Wilderness Society. 'We don't want to see these industrial facilities placed on land that's pristine. We love the idea of brownfields for renewable energy development because it relieves the (development) pressure on undisturbed places. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have identified nearly 4,100 contaminated sites deemed economically suitable for wind and solar power development, as well as biomass. Included are 5 million acres suitable for photovoltaic or concentrated solar power development, and 500,000 acres for wind power. These sites, if fully developed, have the potential to produce 950,000 megawatts — more than the country's total power needs in 2007, according to EPA data."
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EPA To Reuse Toxic Sites For Renewable Energy

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  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday October 12, 2009 @10:11PM (#29727615) Journal

    And open pit mine would be a pretty rotten place for a wind farm OR a solar field.

    Might make a good site for an orbital solar power downlink rectenna, though.

    • by nedlohs (1335013) on Monday October 12, 2009 @10:20PM (#29727693)

      You fill it with nuclear waste first, obviously.

      • by bradbury (33372) <Robert,Bradbury&gmail,com> on Monday October 12, 2009 @11:50PM (#29728277) Homepage

        If one used the spare power to transmute the nuclear waste into useful non-radioactive materials then it wouldn't be "waste" anymore. The concept that the U.S. is power limited is completely false. A recent PNAS paper showed that the U.S. could supply 14x its *entire* electricity production using only high value wind power sites. Use the extra electricity to transmute the nuclear waste and one of the entire arguments against nuclear power disappears [1]. Then it becomes a simple economic discussion as to whether its better to build remote wind farms and superconducting cables to make the power available at distant cities, or build nuclear reactors closer to the cities where one could take advantage of existing transmission infrastructure. If you want to give a gift to ones children start thinking in terms of "free" green energy.

        1. Also worth noting is that either laser or tokamak fusion power might come into the mix over the next decade. But that doesn't minimize the advantages in U.S. jobs and infrastructure that would result from building up wind, tidal & solar generating capacity as well as superconducting transmission infrastructure. What is required is to break the coal, oil & gas monopoly mindset. If its taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere it is *not* sustainable. Not unless your definition of "sustainable" involves killing off a lot of species and a fair number of humans.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Has anybody looked into what "harvesting" all this wind is gonna do to the environment? I'm all for trying out new ideas and definitely think we should be doing everything to get rid of coal, but I also remember my history. After all, in the the 20th century we thought building millions of combustion engines was just hunky dory since it all just went "poof" into the wild blue yonder, and some moron thought it was a great idea to bring African bees to Brazil and Kudzu to the south, and those ideas turned out

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by rcw-home (122017)

            But with all this talk of the entire planet harvesting wind I don't think I've seen so much as a single study on what taking the large chunks of energy out of the wind will do to our planet.

            You misspelled "insignificantly small chunks [noaa.gov]". And we've already taken out not-quite-as-insignificantly small chunks by building billions of houses.

            It would really suck if we just traded one "uh oh" for another.

            Every method of energy production has an environmental impact. That is a red herring. A useful discussion wil

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              And we've already taken out not-quite-as-insignificantly small chunks by building billions of houses.

              This is nothing compared to the opposite effect from all the wind-absorbing trees we've cut down in order to make room for those houses, lawns, pastures, roads, parking lots, etc.

              On a windy day, compare walking in a big city to walking in a forest. When it comes to wind abatement, smooth-sided, rigid buildings have nothing on trees, with their nice, fractal, flexible shapes. The same goes for windmills --

            • by salesgeek (263995)

              A useful discussion will center around which set of environmental impacts can be most easily tolerated.

              Not really. It's a good question - as we remove energy from the wind, it has to have some effect on other aspects of the environment. This is a question that would be valuable to get an answer to.

              Oh, and get over the spelling mistakes. They happen all the time on /.

              • by bradbury (33372)

                I believe there have been studies done on wind extraction and don't remember the concerns being very significant. The problem with wind, tidal, photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, space power, etc. is that they all shift the energy flow equation for the planet. However I believe humanity is still such a small part (~16 terawatts) of that equation (and will be until we are at 0.01 x Kardachev-Type-I civilization energy level (which is ~170 petawatts) so that our impact gets lost in the noise. The mos

                • by nomadic (141991)
                  Disclaimer, if you really understand molecular nanotechnology

                  If you really understand molecular nanotechnology, then you're from the FUTURE. Nobody alive "really understand[s]" it. Otherwise they would know how to make it.
                  • by bradbury (33372)

                    Part of the problem is being precise enough. "Molecular nanotechnology" does exist in the form of every enzyme which catalyzes a reaction in biochemistry. All of the DNA polymerases, RNA polymerases and the Ribosome can be considered "limited purpose" nanoassemblers in that they assemble multiple components into larger molecular aggregates which form more complex structures (genomes, ribosomal, messenger and transfer RNA and all proteins). What is missing is a 4-8 million atom complete general purpose mo

                    • by nomadic (141991)
                      Part of the problem is being precise enough. "Molecular nanotechnology" does exist in the form of every enzyme which catalyzes a reaction in biochemistry.

                      That is an incorrect use of language. "Technology" is, by definition, artificially constructed.

                      One can understand the vision and understand the path toward achieving it without knowing all of the details. Your argument is nothing more than another way of saying "Everything is easy once you know how to do it."

                      Nice try, but you weren't talking about
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Has anybody looked into what "harvesting" all this wind is gonna do to the environment?

            Yes.

            With solar I have much less concern since that sunlight is just gonna hit the ground anyway

            That's ridiculous. Either way you're interfering with energy. That sunlight is now not going to heat the ground, which stores that heat energy to a greater degree than some solar panels. If you're concerned about wind, you should be concerned about solar. The amount of energy intercepted and where it's not going are both relevant.

            But with all this talk of the entire planet harvesting wind I don't think I've seen so much as a single study on what taking the large chunks of energy out of the wind will do to our planet.

            The jet stream is powered by the conveyor which is powered by thermal differentials in ice masses. If the ice melts (as it is doing!) then the conveyor, the single largest ocea

          • Has anybody looked into what "harvesting" all this wind is gonna do to the environment?

            Yep.

            It's about like letting a forest grow. Slows the wind down a little bit near the surface. Eases erosion nearby. Does diddly-squat to the weather. (A little more nucleation and turbulence - far less than building a city on the site.)

            With solar I have much less concern since that sunlight is just gonna hit the ground anyway, ...

            And maybe half of it bounce back into the sky at the original frequency (depending on the

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by nedlohs (1335013)

          Best just to put it in a big hole for future generations.

          If it's really that bad it must be more radioactive than plain old uranium ore (since otherwise putting it back in the ground would be a no brainer) and hence it would be a better fuel source.

          At least we can leave something for the great-grand children. And nuclear waste piles seems like the ideal gift.

          But I was trying to make a joke...

          • If it's really that bad it must be more radioactive than plain old uranium ore (since otherwise putting it back in the ground would be a no brainer) and hence it would be a better fuel source.

            "More radioactive" != "better fuel source". There are plenty of elements "more radioactive" than uranium, but are unsuited as nuclear fuel because they have a poor neutron absorption coefficient, etc.

        • by MrKaos (858439)

          Use the extra electricity to transmute the nuclear waste and one of the entire arguments against nuclear power disappears [1]

          Unfortunately another one of the big problems with Nuclear power is the routine release of radioactive isotopes. [slashdot.org]

          In the meantime sustainable sources of harvesting energy like solar, wind, geo-thermal and wave/tidal are a necessary development to creating the right mix for meeting energy needs. It is essential that an infrastructure plan is developed for a geologically stable spent

        • Fusion power has been "adecade away" for 30 years. Stop counting on it.

          Moreover, nuclear waste cannot be broken down, you have to wait an eon or two for it to transmute into something else (aka wait 3 half-lives or more). Of course, it could be recycled in breeder or CANDU reactors [wikipedia.org], but I digress.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Seems like it could make a heck of a foundation for a solar concentrator mirror array...

    • better use: pumped storage facility.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Monday October 12, 2009 @10:28PM (#29727737) Homepage

    Using already disturbed lands would help avoid conflicts between renewable energy developers and environmental groups concerned about impacts to wildlife habitat.

    I used to work in toxics cleanup and I think that's a brilliant idea. A lot of hazardous materials are more risk to dig up than just leave alone. That would put the land to some practical use and restore value to the surrounding communities, many of which were blighted by the proximity to the contamination (whether justified by actual exposure risk or not). And, oh by the way, turn that otherwise unusable ground into jobs and non-polluting energy.

    So whatever led to the consideration of these sites, it's a winner. The fact no one will seriously be able to challenge the site selection on environmental grounds will simply speed getting the shovels into the ground.

    This is a great idea. Whoever thought it up should get a prize.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AugstWest (79042)

      1) Yes, it's a great idea.

      2) PLEASE do not call it "brownfields."

      We don't need doublespeak. It's a good idea, don't hide it behind some useless term like "brownfield."

      Call it a "contaminated site," people can get behind that. Don't create more battles for yourselves, and don't give your "opponents" words they can throw back at you.

      But most definitely, do it.

      • by raddan (519638) * on Monday October 12, 2009 @11:17PM (#29728073)
        "brownfield" is not doublespeak-- it's a technical term. It means "a site that is contaminated but that has potential for redevelopment [wikipedia.org]." This is to distinguish it from sites that are highly toxic and/or not re-developable.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by salesgeek (263995)

          It's a technical term that sets off the property rights wingnuts. These are the "it's my property and I can do whatever I want to it, even if it causes cancer for 10,000 years" people. Those people often are behind fixing "contaminated sites" but when they hear brownfield, they picture someone spilling 8oz of diesel in their strip mall parking lot and having to pay $15,000,000 to tear out the parking lot, remove 20ft of topsoil and then replace the parking lot... and pay lawyers.

          • by nomadic (141991)
            These are the "it's my property and I can do whatever I want to it, even if it causes cancer for 10,000 years" people.

            They have a shorter name: liberatarians.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      The flip side of this, is those that profited by polluting the land in question will inevitably use lobbyists to inflate the price paid for the land where it matches the value of adjoining unpolluted and leave all that pollution behind. Either the contaminated land is already government land or the polluters pay to clean it up. This just sounds like another greedy arsholes dream to dump worthless land onto the taxpayer at enormous profit.

      Let's see wind farms, ridge line and cliffs, both places generally

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hipp5 (1635263)

        The reality a whole bunch of polluted land not really suitable for wind or solar farms

        Except ya know: "National Renewable Energy Laboratory have identified nearly 4,100 contaminated sites deemed economically suitable". I think the whole, "economically suitable" thing means it is... economically suitable for solar and wind.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Except once the toxic waste starts leaching off the, now government owned site and they have to dismantle the solar/wind farm in order to clean up the site, all at public expense of course. So environmental impact statement to prove the pollutants will not leave the site through natural processes, be it wind or ground water movement, second the property should have a nil or negative value to take into account it's true non-existent value, thirdly if the property is only borderline and there are substantial

    • by skavenger (1219006) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:59AM (#29728667)

      The fact no one will seriously be able to challenge the site selection on environmental grounds will simply speed getting the shovels into the ground.

      You should look into the rehabilitation of contaminated sites before stating anything quite so strongly. The undesirability of contaminated land can make it environmentally valuable and worth protecting. Environmental grounds for legal argument aren't nearly as limited as you're pretending.

    • by Jon_S (15368)

      It's not a "good idea". It's a "been there, done that".

      Obligatory wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_Winds [wikipedia.org]

      Although it it true that those turbines are not on the most contaminated portions of the old Bethlehem steel.

  • Interesting Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by plague911 (1292006) on Monday October 12, 2009 @10:44PM (#29727853)
    The only downside I see to this is that construction costs are going to be higher. For a couple of reasons. These brown sites will by nature of them be farther way from existing infrastructure resulting in higher costs to send both materials and labor to the location. Also there will need to be extra safety precatuions taken for the labourers and the waste from the zones.

    All in all it may be a good idea or may not. I hope it turns out to be economically beneficial for all.

    • These brown sites will by nature of them be farther way from existing infrastructure resulting in higher costs to send both materials and labor to the location.

      Actually, there are quite a lot of urban sites as well. In fact, I drove past one [epa.gov] just last week. Remember, too, that infrastructure spreads to follow and/or lead suburban sprawl. Yesterday's isolated dumping ground is today's fashionable gated community.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jeremi (14640)

      These brown sites will by nature of them be farther way from existing infrastructure resulting in higher costs to send both materials and labor to the location.

      Precisely the opposite. If you RTFM, you'll see that the listed benefits include: power transmission lines are often already available on site (leftover from the site's previous use), and the sites are often located in areas with depressed economies (read: readily available labor from nearby towns, that used to be employed by the old site)

      Also the

    • Most of the brown sites had some form of industry already using them. That means the infrastructure is already there, originally to support the industry that used the land in the first place.
  • Who would want to work there? It's a good thing we'll probably get national health care, because the construction workers are gonna need it when their thyroid glands swell up to the size of a cantaloupe.
    • Pay a good wage, and people will come.

      There are people lining up to work at oil drilling sites/refineries, nuclear plants, paper mills, all kinds of shitty places.


      And its go boys go
      They'll time your every breath
      And every day in this place your two days near to death
      But you go

      Well a process man am I and I'm tellin' you no lie
      I work and breathe among the fumes that tread across the sky
      There's thunder all around me and there's poison in the air
      There's a lousy smell that smacks of hell and dust all in me hair

      We

  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Monday October 12, 2009 @10:58PM (#29727945) Journal
    Isn't one of the selling points supposed to be lower maintenance costs? But really, doesn't that get wiped out, or at least compromised, by the higher employment cost of sending crews into contaminated sites that are still waiting for clean-up? And if the site clean-up is in progress, wouldn't that drive up the maintenance crews' costs up even higher?
  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Monday October 12, 2009 @11:01PM (#29727975)

    Building on top of a brownfield might do little to stop its contents from percolating into groundwater. (Actually, it might do something at that, simply by diverting rain that would otherwise fall onto and into it.)

    I'm all for putting otherwise-unusable land to good use, but we'd need to have legal structures to protect everyone involved, so (for example) the company building the energy installation isn't suddenly on the hook for everything lurking under it.

  • why didnt we just say "the government"
  • by igny (716218) on Monday October 12, 2009 @11:14PM (#29728051) Homepage Journal
    I would not let this happen on the landfill in my backyard! That would ruin the beautiful sunset over the steaming pile of crap I am enjoying here, and the price of my house will go like way down!
  • Now Melvin Ferd [wikipedia.org], the C.H.U.D. [wikipedia.org] and the Turtles [ninjaturtles.com] will have free, on-site power now!

    And who knows? Maybe even real jobs.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:07AM (#29728377) Journal
    Most of the brownfields, by their very definitions, are either in or close to suburbia. Basically, by putting up wind, Solar PV|thermal, or possibly geo-thermal, these will generate power CLOSE to consumption. In addition, many of these sites already had high tension lines being brought in. Generally, a brownfield was a previous manufacturing site that used loads of electricity. So, with high tension lines already there, the increased costs of build-out as well as maintenance may be far less than doing a new site located 20-50 miles away.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      But suburbia is set up with a set of decreasing voltage lines. To tap back in with a new larger altering voltage might be costly.
      • Not if it's properly regulated. You feed the same voltage as the existing lines. If your available power drops, then you supply less current and the original feed picks up the load. Only big concern I see is it would affect voltages where average line drop was calculated into the transformer choices.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:29AM (#29728805) Homepage

    "The Daily Climate reports that President Obama and Congress are pushing to identify thousands of contaminated landfills and abandoned mines -- 'brownfields' that could be repurposed to house wind farms, solar arrays, and geothermal power plants. Using already disturbed lands would help avoid conflicts between renewable energy developers and environmental groups concerned about impacts to wildlife habitat. 'In the next decade there's going to be a lot of renewable energy built, and all that has to go somewhere,' said Jessica Goad, an energy and climate change policy fellow for The Wilderness Society.

    That's all well and good for the ducks, but what about landowners who have invested good money and hosted dozens of elbow-rubbing parties over the years to develop a relationship with congresspeople and senators? How are they supposed to get the government to buy their $60 per acre swampland for $2500 per acre? Reusing land the government has already paid for severely depresses the corrupt real estate deal market, with nothing more to show for it than reduced public spending.

    Won't somebody please think of the well-connected?!?

  • Is that another word for sick building syndrome?
  • Those sites aren't dead, you know! They are the breeding grounds for all kinds of different mutations, including the six-legged common redneckus monstrosius and the beautiful giant caterfly.
    How can you just sit there and plan building power plants on the homes of those poor mutants?

  • Did you just read the summary, and think "hey - that's good news!". I just did. Then doubt began to set in. What it is actually saying is that industry crapped on so much land, that if we built windmills on it we could power the whole of the US. It does not say that they could afford the windmills, or were going to build them. No power, no windmills, just a huge amount of crapped-on land and some hope. At least, the healing may have started.
  • There are two dirty secrets that the environmental movement does not like to talk about or engage in because either it is not politically correct among the politically correct or they do not gain much in the way of donations and support for it.

    1. Population control. God for bid we would encourage people to have less Children as a way to help the environment.

    2. Cleaning up a place that is already spoiled (not talking about picking up trash in the national park). Yes, there is some of this that goes on, but f

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      1. Population control. God for bid we would encourage people to have less Children as a way to help the environment.

      You are a liar. I am from Santa Cruz, which is one of the most hippie'd up towns in All Creation. The environmentalists have been preaching zero or negative population growth since before I was born.

      2. Cleaning up a place that is already spoiled (not talking about picking up trash in the national park).

      You fight battles you can win. There are many such sites right in the middle of populated areas [nytimes.com] which are not being cleaned up because they are not being designated superfund sites for economic reasons, and selfish bullshit ones at that. But that's not the fault of the environmental movement, and they do in fact

  • I remember putting forward a thesis in an old GIS class that was a bit too grand for the time I was able to spend flwshing out the particulars, but it was essentially to start creating a map layer for the North America (yes Canada and Mexico too, cuz pollution travels no?) that we could then query for whole categories of pollutants and land use restrictions. One purpose was to make the data saleable to insurance industry for rate adjustments (yes they screw people over for where they live, but they pay good

  • Obama is doing good, he is coming up with ways to save money and is showing he has more brains then the last 3 presidents put together....keep it up Mr.President!

  • We have one of the original Superfund sites in my town of Ashland, Massachusetts. The Nyanza dye factory dumped all sorts of waste products for decades before being shut down. Now there's a huge field where they've sealed in most of the waste, and the owner of the property is looking at putting in a solar farm on the cap with wind turbines along the perimeter. It seems like a perfect site for that sort of development, and there's not much else that can be done with the property.

  • About a month ago, my girlfriend and I rode our bikes on the Cour D'Alene Bike Trail [friendsofcdatrails.org], that crosses the Idaho panhandle. The whole site is a toxic waste dump -- it was the old railway from a mine to a mill, and the entire length of it was contaminated with all sorts of nasty things. It's 130 km long, and it wasn't an option to just dig up a 130km long by 3 meter wide by 3 meter deep chunk of land. So what they did was they poured a bunch of clay on the top, and then put a nice fat layer of concrete and as

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

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