How America is transforming old coal mines and brownfields into renewable energy farms

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In the evolving landscape of energy production, the transformation from our coal-powered past to a renewable future is not merely a shift in power sources but a reinvention of the physical spaces that energy occupies. As the United States retires its old coal power plants, a surprising trend is emerging: the same lands that once fueled the industrial revolution with coal are now becoming the frontiers of the renewable energy boom. And it’s not just coal plantsbrownfields and landfills, too, are being repurposed as key sites for renewable energy production.

From Coal to Clean: A National Movement

The national pivot toward renewable energy has been marked by the retirement of coal plants, once the backbone of American industry. Over the past decade, the United States has witnessed a significant decline in coal-fired power units, with more than 546 units retired, representing about 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. The trend of coal plant retirements is set to continue, with projections indicating that by 2026, the U.S. will have closed half of its coal generation capacity that peaked in 2011.

This trend reflects a broader decarbonization shift in the energy sector, moving away from coal towards more sustainable and renewable energy sources.

But these sites aren’t just being left fallow. Instead, they are being repurposed as homes for solar farms and clean energy storage systems, capitalizing on existing infrastructure and grid connections. The federal government and various states are championing this shift, recognizing the dual benefits of environmental remediation and energy innovation.

Below are some leading examples of older, dirtier energy sites being transformed and repurposed for newer, cleaner power.

New Jersey’s Logan Plant Transformation

A prime example of this trend is the Logan Generating Plant in New Jersey. Its recent demolition in 2022 is a milestone in the state’s journey to meet its clean energy objectives. The cleared site is poised to contribute to New Jersey’s energy future, aligning with the state’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint and enhance sustainable energy production.

In operation since 1994, the Logan Generating Plant was one of two remaining coal plants in New Jersey. (The other, Chambers Cogeneration Plant in Carneys Point, has also since been retired.) The 40-acre site will be used to host big grid batteries to store energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels.

Ohio’s Coal Mines: From Liabilities to Assets

Ohio is also embracing this transformative approach. The state is repurposing old coal mine lands, turning these once-neglected areas into hotspots for renewable energy development. This initiative reclaims degraded lands and aims to inject economic vitality into regions previously dependent on the coal industry.

One specific example is the Nottingham Solar Farm in Ohio’s Harrison County. The project involves the construction of a solar-powered electric generation facility on top of a former coal surface mine. The facility will receive energy from solar panels on approximately 1,200 acres of surrounding privately owned land and then route that energy to consumers through the former coal mine’s transmission grid.

The Solar Potential of Former Mine Sites and Brownfields

The two projects detailed above demonstrate the great potential that lies fallow in former coal sites and brownfields.

This is a topic the The Nature Conservancy has highlighted in its 2023 report called “Mining the Sun.” The report lays out five chief reasons why former mines, brownfields, and landfills make for excellent clean energy hubs.

  • For starters, new federal incentives make developing these sites more affordable than ever.
  • These sites offer a head start on infrastructure that would otherwise need to be built from scratch. With strategic locations, existing transmission lines, and substations, these sites are ideal for conversion into renewable energy facilities.
  • New energy projects on retired sites inject much-needed economic revitalization, bringing new jobs and investment where a former economic pillar had collapsed.</li
  • These projects leverage the vast, open landscapes and exposure to sunlight that these sites offer, showcasing the untapped potential for renewable energy projects on lands marked by previous industrial use and helping the U.S. get closer to its climate goals and electricity demands simultaneously.
  • Finally, repurposing these sites minimizes environmental impact by making use of already disturbed land rather than disturbing undeveloped natural areas.

With 23 states having 100% clean energy goals, the unique opportunities presented by the infrastructure of abandoned coal plants and brownfields are helping these states make huge strides toward their goals. Besides the projects in New Jersey and Ohio mentioned above, states like Nevada, Louisiana, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, West Virginia, Vermont, and others have similar projects in the works.

Economic Advantages and Taxpayer Savings brings an economic angle to the discussion, highlighting the potential for cost savings for taxpayers. By transitioning these old energy sites to renewable energy production, states can reduce the ongoing costs of maintenance and security while generating new revenue streams. This not only alleviates financial pressure on state budgets but also promotes a more stable and cost-effective energy future.

A Harmonious Blend of History and Innovation

This wave of transformation is more than an environmental remediation effort; it’s a harmonious blend of history and innovation. It’s a movement that respects the past while boldly stepping into the future, creating a legacy of sustainability for generations to come. As the United States continues to repurpose old energy sites, it sets a global example of how innovation can turn historical liabilities into valuable assets for a greener future.

Illuminating the Future

As the United States continues to transition away from coal towards more renewable and sustainable energy sources, the decline in coal-fired generation capacity underscores a pivotal shift towards greener alternatives. This movement marks a significant stride in the country’s energy policy and opens up new avenues for individuals and businesses alike to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Exploring options has never been easier for those looking to make a difference by adopting renewable energy plans for their households or businesses. Visit our renewable energy providers page to compare providers and find a plan that aligns with your commitment to a cleaner, sustainable future. This step towards renewable energy supports environmental initiatives and aligns with the broader national shift towards decarbonization, echoing the collective effort to embrace a greener energy landscape.