Panel says Virginia should do more to promote solar development on brownfields
Virginia should do more to encourage developers to site solar on brownfields rather than prime agricultural and forested land, panelists at the Virginia Solar Summit in Richmond Thursday said.
“The brownfields I think is an easy one,” said Ron Butler, state director for the Virginia chapter of Conservatives for Clean Energy during the panel discussion on statewide solar policy. “I don’t know why we haven’t already done it, since everywhere I go that’s the first thing that people say.”
Brownfields are previously developed lands that may be environmentally contaminated, including former industrial sites, mines and landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are 450,000 brownfields nationwide, and the Virginia Department of Energy has estimated that 100,000 acres of land formerly used for surface mining of coal alone is available for redevelopment in Virginia.
Policymakers have been eyeing such sites as good candidates for solar energy, both because many already have infrastructure in place to connect with the electric grid and because their potential contamination may make them less attractive for uses like residential or commercial development.
In Virginia, these so-called “brightfields” could also prove one solution to rising tensions over the significant land use requirements of large-scale solar installations as the state moves to decarbonize its electric grid by midcentury.
“There’s benefits,” said West Virginia Del. Evan Hansen, a Democrat who also co-owns environmental and economic development consultancy Downstream Strategies. “The electrical infrastructure and other infrastructure might already exist on these sites, but there are challenges as well that make it more tempting to go to a greenfield site.”
“Greenfields” are sites that have not been previously developed and may be used for agriculture or forest purposes.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy
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