Superfund Sites: Landfills and Clean Energy

June 24, 2014 Dump

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act’ of 1980 established what is known as the Superfund program to assess and restore contaminated sites, settle costs with responsible parties and ensure protection in the long-term. These days Superfund sites are being taken beyond clean-up and are being reused for all sorts of great projects.

The EPA’s ‘Superfund Redevelopment Initiative’ takes rehabilitation a step further and makes site reuse a reality. Under EPA supervision redeveloped land might become wildlife refuges, industrial parks or recreational facilities.

Other contaminated sites are converted into projects that produce renewable energy once the contaminants have been removed or safely contained. In 2008 the EPA began the ‘Siting Renewable Energy on Contaminated Land and Mining Sites Initiative,’ to delve deeper into the possibilities for and benefits and costs of future sustainable developments.

Many Superfund sites are well suited for renewable energy generation, as they are often large, open and located in remote areas. Additionally, the infrastructure left by the industries that originally contaminated the sites can serve to reduce costs in the construction and energy distribution processes.

In 2010 the EPA estimated that there were 367 Superfund sites that could support biopower facilities, 34 that could support community-scale wind energy projects and that 82 that could support solar-derived power sites in the form of concentrated solar power and photovoltaic arrays. An additional 1,270 sites had potential to generate significant renewable energy, but were not yet linked to utility grids.

Energy can also be derived from the waste itself, in the case of some biogas sites. In 1989 the EPA placed the Southside Sanitary Landfill in Indianapolis on the National Priorities List. In 1997 it was removed from the list, after responsible parties took steps to collect, treat and prevent the spread of the hazardous chemicals in it. Methane gas, the byproduct of decomposing waste, is used to heat Crossroads Greenhouses and as fuel in a nearby Rolls Royce factory. The space also functions as a 9-hole golf course.

In some cases the energy produced on the site can facilitate the transformation, as when the photovoltaic solar fields are used to power chemical treatment facilities on site. In 2009, Aerojet General Corporation installed the first panels of a solar powered treatment program to clean groundwater they had contaminated. Aerojet is one of a number of companies that have not only taken responsibility for their part in pollution, but also work with the EPA to remedy the situation using sustainable practices.

SolarArrayWith benefits now apparent to federal, state and local governments, as well as businesses and communities looking for reliable and competitively priced energy, developing renewable energy facilities on contaminated land is a growing industry.  In addition to converting dangerous land to a renewable energy source, there are job opportunities associated with clean up, construction, administration and operations.

For examples of redeveloped Superfund sites, click here

-Aidan Kelly

Photo Credit: Flickr/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Steve Jurvetson

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