Solar power for toxic waste sites?

Polluted land could be ideal for renewable power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Companies seeking to establish solar power farms around protected wildlife areas can face a long, byzantine government permitting process. Why not set up utility-scale, renewable energy in polluted zones instead?

That's what the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing. Its map for Google Earth show the potential for solar, wind, and biomass plants across 480,000 sites marred by toxic industrial waste and mining.

Interactive EPA maps for Google Earth expand on the data shown here.
Interactive EPA maps for Google Earth expand on the data shown here. EPA

The agency says 850,000 acres it has cleaned up, among 15 million contaminated acres total, are exceptional destinations for clean-power companies, in part due to the low cost and existing infrastructure there. Plus, brownfields, former mines, and Superfund sites are unattractive for most commercial and residential development, especially in rural areas.

Demand for cleaner forms of energy will expand by 31 percent over the next quarter-century, according to the Department of Energy. Its National Renewable Energy Laboratory worked with the EPA to suggest destinations for green-energy projects.

However, the Christian Science Monitor and others voice concern about the safety of workers who would build and staff these renewable-energy plants.

Early in 2007 the EPA made data about toxic wastelands available for the public to map with Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. Data from the U.S. Geological Survey is also online, in formats including XML and RSS.

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