From brownfields to brightfields: A land-filled with renewables opportunity Ryan Kennedy

Landfills and other brownfields present a unique opportunity for renewable energy development. Jon Powers of CleanCapital and Paul Curran of BQ Energy share their views.

One of the biggest debates that can arise during the development of a renewables project is where to put the projects. Ideal locations for these land-intensive projects often overlap with agricultural land, community resources, and environmentally or economically valuable land.  

Siting renewables projects on land that is no longer useful – aka  brownfield development  – provides a clever solution to the conundrum. Building solar on land that has already been disturbed or damaged by previous human action is often referred to as turning brownfields to brightfields. 

Landfills, oil refineries, and superfund sites are increasingly popular locations for solar development in the eyes of the public and the energy industry. These sites are often closed to traditional redevelopment, which limits opposition and competition for the land. And there are plenty of them. In fact, the EPA estimates that there are over 450,000 brownfield sites across America – sites that pose health and safety hazards for the communities around them, and are daily reminders of past productivity.  

However, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), this left-behind legacy of the industrial revolution – closed landfills, shuttered coal plants, superfunds and brownfields – are excellent opportunities for clean energy development.  

Brownfield development helps accelerate renewable deployment and furthers environmental and land stewardship. It also creates benefits for nearby Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) communities, helping with environmental and social aspects of Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) goals.

Several years ago, the EPA, with BQ Energy’s assistance, created RE-Powering America’s Land, an initiative that encourages renewable energy development on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites when such development is aligned with the community’s vision for the site.  

Thanks to the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, this sector of renewables development is poised for even more growth.  Specifically, the IRA’s “energy community” provisions offer substantial economic incentives for landfill-to-solar development. According to the IRA, “energy communities” are defined to include: 

Brownfield sites. 
Communities that at any time after 2009 had employment or …


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