Positive Trend: Making Brownfields Green, Waste Clean

Companies in the renewable-energy and cleantech arena are pioneers in leading the world into a cleaner future. But they can’t do anything to change the dirty past. Right?

Wrong. Many of these green companies are not only setting the world on a lower-emissions course, but are actually cleaning the mess left by decades of ruthless contamination.

Solar companies, in particular, have been active in this space. For instance, many project developers are interested in siting their installations on former landfill sites. Although these locations are chosen for practical – rather than symbolic – reasons, solar adds a green hue to these once-filthy sites.

Solar developer PVNavigator, for instance, just signed an agreement to study the possibility of building a photovoltaic facility on a former landfill site in San Bernardino County, Calif.

Likewise, electric utility Western Massachusetts Electric Co. has already completed a large solar installation on a contaminated brownfield site in Pittsfield, Mass., that would otherwise be unsuitable for any other type of development, and the company is pursuing similar projects in the area. (For more details on the Silver Lake solar project, check out my article in the January 2011 issue of Solar Industry.)

Some of these companies are going as far as to decontaminate sites, with the help of federal and state governments.

groSolar also chose a landfill site for one of its solar projects, which will be used to power a pump and treat system to decontaminate groundwater in New Jersey. On the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doled out funds for an electrical resistance heating system to clean up pesticide-contaminated sites in California, and all of the power used in the decontamination system will be offset by a solar project located on the site itself.

No, we can’t erase the mistakes of our polluted past. But perhaps more of these double-duty projects can put us on a faster track to a cleaner future.



Solar Energy Powering Efforts To Decontaminate Pesticide-Ridden Sites

A site heavily contaminated by toxic chemicals is getting a major cleanup, thanks to a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Not only will an electrical resistance heating system decontaminate the Frontier Fertilizer site in Davis, Calif., but the energy used to power the system will be 100% offset by a solar energy project installed at the site. According to the EPA, these systems will reduce the timeline for cleaning up the site from 150 years to just 30, as well as slash CO2 emissions by more than 54 metric tons a year.

During the 1970s and 1980s, operations at the Frontier Fertilizer included storing, mixing and delivering pesticides and herbicides, and since then, these toxic chemicals have been contaminating soil and groundwater, which is the primary source of drinking water in the area, the EPA explains.

“This is the ‘Recovery’ Act, after all.”

Another solar company is also doing its part to double its green contributions: groSolar is working with Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc. to power a pump and treat system to decontaminate groundwater in New Jersey. According to the companies, the new solar installation will be located on top of a capped landfill that was closed decades ago, and will also take advantage of tax credits provided by the federal government and the State of New Jersey.

In an era of ultra-partisanship and greedy politicians, most of us have become cynical about the use of our hard-earned tax dollars — and even tree-hugging left-wingers don’t want to see their money swindled or dwindled. But projects like these, amongst the countless others funded by the Recovery Act, are evidence that there are still people who care about this planet — even in the greedy, corporate world we call “business.”

We may not convince everyone of the dangers of climate change, and we certainly won’t get everyone to act on them. But this is the “Recovery” Act, after all — we might as well put it to good use.

(Photo credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

What Will It Take?

The story packed just the right amount of edge-of-your seat tension and heartwarming triumph that an imminent Hollywood screenplay is inevitable. It’s impossible not to have gotten caught up in the mainstream media’s coverage of the emotional rescue of the trapped Chilean coal miners. I, myself, couldn’t help but get choked up upon seeing these brave soles hug their families after emerging from being underground for 70 days.

But there was another similar story that hasn’t gotten quite as much media attention here in the U.S.: Contact has been lost with 29 men trapped underground after a Nov. 19 coal-mine explosion in New Zealand. Making the situation especially grave is that experts say the toxicity levels of poisonous gas make the odds of survival slim.

This tragedy comes practically on the heels of another coal-mine disaster that killed 25 people in West Virginia this past spring, among countless others throughout history.

In combination with the far-reaching environmental effects of the recent oil spill in the Gulf — and without making any real political statements — I can’t help but ask myself, what will it take for humans to realize that these “traditional” forms of energy are just not the answer? How many people have to die?

Of course, it’s not just the deaths of these poor workers. The legacy of this generation’s choices will have much, much wider implications for the planet in the long run.

For what it’s worth, we are making some headway. Wind and solar power are staking out their spots in the global energy market, and electric vehicles are set to make their foray into the quasi-mainstream. The seeds are planted. We are just in desperate need of some Miracle Grow.