November 01, 2014

Brightfields: Sustainable Opportunities for Renewable Energy Projects on Environmentally Impaired Lands

Charles B. Howland

Today there is renewed hope that idle, unproductive contaminated sites and brownfields can be repurposed as productive renewable energy projects (brightfields). The increasing demand for renewable energy, innovative project financing structures, new insurance products, and the work of federal and state lawmakers and regulators to address uncertainty about environmental liability are together leading to exciting real estate opportunities. Indeed, the highest and best use of an environmentally impaired parcel could well be a brightfield. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging brightfields through its RE-Powering America Initiative, a unique effort of its enforcement and remediation programs. Working with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), its state environmental and energy counterparts, and external stakeholders in the financing, cleanup, redevelopment, and energy communities, EPA encourages brightfields when they align with the local communities’ visions. As Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation said of the Initiative in naming it one of the twenty-five best governmental innovations of 2011–12: “[It] revitalizes degraded land by building infrastructure for our clean energy future, while preserving green space. The program turns community liabilities into assets by fostering an unconventional, collaborative network among players in the energy and remediation sectors.”

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