How To Turn A Brownfield Into A Net-Zero Electricity Source

Brightfields Initiatives Throughout the U.S. Hope to Drive Brownfields Development & Remediation

How To Turn A Brownfield Into A Net-Zero Electricity Source

Brightfields Initiatives Throughout the U.S. Hope to Drive Brownfields Development & Remediation

The federal government supports the reclamation of brownfields through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program by providing seed money for local government agencies to provide clean-up and redevelopment guidance. In 2002, those efforts were made law by the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act.

The U.S. EPA’s Brownfields Success Stories Map
The U.S. EPA has an interactive resource to learn about brownfield success stories on their website. Click the image to access.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has earmarked “a historic $1.5 billion investment” in Brownfield Program funds, which is broken up into specific parts: $1.2 billion in direct project grants funding and $300 million for State & Tribal response programs.

Here is how the EPA is planning to spend all that money:

  • A major increase in EPA Brownfield Grant Funding
  • Substantial funding for the remediation and repurposing of mine-scarred brownfields
  • Billions in additional funding for water, wastewater, stormwater, and green infrastructure, including for emerging contaminants including PFAS pollution
  • New and expanded transportation infrastructure programs
  • Expansive resources for broadband infrastructure investment
  • New funding for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean manufacturing deployments
  • Expanded grants for pollution cleanup and resiliency projects in targeted coastal and waterfront areas
  • Economic development for 33 states in targeted regions supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority, the Denali Commission, the Northern Border Commission, and the Southwest Regional Commission

State brownfield reclamation projects can provide tax incentives for revitalizing contaminated sites and providing additional funds for those interested in the potential of these sites. There are 58 state and local Brownfields Programs available in the U.S.

According to one group of attorneys who provide business and environmental services throughout Ohio, the U.S. EPA commissioned a study that showed that every dollar in brownfields spending put toward assessment/testing and clean-up provided $19.78 in additional economic leverage. Brownfields often benefit from their locations – connected to existing infrastructure – while also benefitting the surrounding community upon remediation. Residential property values are purported to see a 5-15% increase within 1.29 miles of a reclaimed brownfield.

There are plenty of plans out there to help revitalize and reclaim brownfields. One of the more intriguing initiatives envisions turning them into solar farms to expand the nation’s renewable energy portfolio and help meet the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of “achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” and to hit net zero emissions as an economy by 2050.

There is precedent for turning “brownfields into brightfields,” and there are already 300 solar installations built on capped landfills (which are part of the definition of brownfields) throughout the U.S. according to the EPA. Some 10,000 disused landfills are part of the 450,000 brownfield sites still to be remediated in the nation.

However, there are specific considerations that must be addressed when proposing a brightfield site. The American Clean Power Association detailed those concerns in their Redeveloping Brownfields with Solar fact sheet in 2022.

Among the challenges listed are

  • Environmental Risk
  • Legal Liability
  • Permitting
  • Site Assessment
  • Remediation & Site Preparation
  • Special Construction Measures

Whether you are hiring an environmental consultant to provide a Phase I or Phase II study, erecting specialized fences, walls, wash ramps, or protective ground layers, or beginning actual construction on a remediated site, knowing exactly what is underground is the most important consideration before putting a drill bit, bucket, or shovel on the ground. Because striking an electrical, gas, water, or sewer line, or other utility that may be on site, could turn an already risky development into a disaster.

Your choices for utility locating & mapping for a brownfield site vary depending on your needs. You can choose a simple utility locate for environmental assessment coring locations, a utility map that visualizes the matrix of pipes, lines, tanks, and conduit and layers them, or a complete conceptual site model (CSM) that provides a full 3D view of all the underground facilities on your brownfield site.

GPRS provides all of the services listed above and more, like our WalkThru 3D and ProCap Progressive Capture 3D photogrammetry products that allow you see your site and utility field markings virtually from anywhere, and track your construction progress at whatever intervals you require. All infrastructure maps, models, virtual tours, reality capture, and more are delivered via our state-of-the art digital platform, SiteMap®. Every GPRS customer receives a complimentary SiteMap® Personal subscription, a PDF and .KMZ file of their utility locate.

GPRS products Intelligently Visualize The Built World® to allow you to more easily communicate and collaborate among teams, whether they’re on site or across the country, to safely and efficiently remediate and reclaim your brownfield and put it to work for the community.

What can we help you visualize?

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any regulatory considerations that need to be taken into account when developing a brownfield site?

When developing a brownfield site, several regulatory considerations must be addressed to ensure safety, compliance, and sustainability. These include:

  1. Environmental Assessments: Most regions require a comprehensive environmental assessment to identify any contamination from previous industrial or commercial activities. This involves soil, water, and air testing. GPRS Environmental Services can provide a full site scan that details your entire site, above and below-ground, to allow for safe and efficient Phase I and Phase II studies.
  2. Cleanup Standards: Depending on the extent of contamination, regulatory bodies set cleanup standards that must be met before they feel the site is remediated and redevelopment can proceed. These standards vary based on the intended use of the site post-cleanup (e.g., residential, commercial).
  3. Legal Liability: Developers must understand their liability for any existing environmental contamination. In some jurisdictions, there are protections or incentives for developers who are cleaning up and reusing brownfield sites.
  4. Public Health and Safety: Ensuring that the site meets health and safety standards to protect future users and nearby communities is crucial. This includes managing any hazardous materials found on site.
  5. Zoning and Land Use: Local zoning laws may need adjustments or special permits to allow for the intended redevelopment, especially if changing the site’s original use.
  6. Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging with the local community and other stakeholders is often a regulatory requirement, ensuring that the development meets broader social and economic goals.

By navigating local, state, and federal regulatory frameworks, developers can successfully remediate and transform brownfield sites into valuable and sustainable properties.

How is a Conceptual Site Model prepared for an Environmental Assessment?

A Conceptual Site Model (CSM) is an essential tool in environmental assessments, especially for brownfield sites. It provides a visual and descriptive representation of the potential environmental risks and conditions at a site. Here’s how a CSM is typically prepared:

  1. Data Collection: Gather historical and current data about the site, including previous uses, existing structures, and known contamination. This involves reviewing historical records, aerial photographs, and previous environmental reports.
  2. Site Investigation: Conduct field investigations to collect soil, water, and air samples. This helps identify the types and concentrations of contaminants present.
  3. Identify Sources of Contamination: Based on the data, identify the sources of contamination, such as former industrial operations, waste disposal areas, or chemical spill sites.
  4. Pathways and Receptors: Determine how contaminants could move through the environment (pathways) and who or what could be affected (receptors). Common pathways include groundwater flow, air dispersion, and surface water runoff. Utility lines like water and sewer pipes, electrical lines, and telecom cables provide preferential pathways that speed the distribution of contaminants. Locating and mapping utilities is essential to creating an accurate CSM.
  5. Risk Assessment: Evaluate the potential risks to human health and the environment by considering the types and concentrations of contaminants, exposure pathways, and the sensitivity of potential receptors.
  6. Visual Representation: Create diagrams and maps to visually represent the sources, pathways, receptors, and boundaries of the site. This helps stakeholders understand the complexity of the site conditions. GPRS’ Mapping & Modeling Team can create 2D CAD plan views, virtual tours, or a complete 3D CSM with 6mm accuracy, depending on your needs.
  7. Iterative Process: Update the CSM as more data becomes available or as conditions change throughout the cleanup and redevelopment process.

A well-prepared CSM is a dynamic tool that aids in understanding the site’s complexities, guiding the cleanup process, and communicating with stakeholders about the risks and remediation strategies.When brownfields –  the more than 450,000 properties in the U.S. thought to contain hazardous pollutants or other contaminants – are left fallow, they pose risks to the environment, public health, and safety of a community.