Truly Green Energy Is Built In The Right Places

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Here in one of the most densely developed states in America, we still have lots of space for solar panels and other renewable energy facilities. Parking lots, rooftops and reclaimed industrial sites, or “brownfields,” are often ideal locations, since they are close to energy consumers and don’t harm natural resources.

We don’t need to build renewable energy facilities on our precious farmlands and natural areas. Trading farmland and natural lands for renewable energy only substitutes one set of problems for another.

Thankfully, many renewable energy projects in this state we’re in are taking advantage of suitable sites. Here are a few examples:

  • Set atop a ridge in Passaic County, William Paterson University has plenty of sun-exposed land around its buildings.  Much of the land is unsuitable for larger buildings because of the rocky, mountainous terrain.  Yet the college chose to build solar panels on several strategic rooftops, and elevated panels in several parking lots, rather than clear the woodlands that make the campus so special.
  • In a similar project completed over a year ago, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey built carports over existing parking lots and covered them with solar panels that generate 852 kilowatts of energy.
  • As part of its $515 million solar program, PSE&G built a solar facility on 5.5 acres of brownfields in Trenton.  The facility contains almost 5,500 solar panels and will produce enough electricity to power 207 homes!

Also in Trenton, NJ Transit created a forward-thinking project that serves both its customers and the environment.  Solar arrays were placed on top of the Clinton Commons and Station Plaza parking garages serving the Amtrak/NJ Transit Center.  In addition to supplying power to the grid, each garage has been fitted with several electric/hybrid vehicle recharging stations directly fed from the solar arrays.  Commuters can park and plug in their cars in the morning, ride the trains to work and return to their fully-charged vehicles at the end of the day!

Recognizing a potential win-win, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched the RE-Powering America’s Land initiative, to encourage renewable energy on current and formerly contaminated land and mining sites. Since most brownfields are a result of previous development, they usually have existing infrastructure, which minimizes the need for start-up investment by the private or public sector.  In addition, renewable energy is often an option for brownfields that don’t have other viable uses.

Across the nation, the EPA has identified thousands of acres of brownfields with potential for large-scale solar, wind, geothermal and biomass facilities.  In New Jersey, 110 sites – everything from abandoned mines to Superfund sites and landfills – have been identified as meeting the EPA’s criteria as potential solar sites.

Like many states in the northeast and midwest, New Jersey’s industrial past left a legacy of contaminated land, abandoned factories and sprawling development.  Renewable energy holds the promise of making a little lemonade from these lemons.

So before we even consider converting green land – whether farmland, forest or field – for renewable energy, we should exhaust the potential of our abundant rooftops, brownfields, parking lots and other already-disturbed lands. It could take a long time before we use them all up!

You can learn more about the potential for renewable energy on brownfields at the EPA RE-Powering America’s Land initiative website at www.epa.gov/renewableenergyland.  And I hope you’ll consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources.


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