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Closed Mine Sites Transformed Into Renewable Energy Generators

image credit: Summitville Mine Solar Project
Ron Miller's picture
Principal Reliant Energy Solutions LLC

Ron Miller is an energy industry expert creating value by analyzing assets, markets, and power usage to identify, monetize, and implement profitable energy and emission reduction projects. He is...

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Throughout the U.S., according to the Government Accountability Office, there are between 80,000 and 250,000 abandoned mine lands (AMLs). AMLs include abandoned mines and the areas adjacent to or affected by the mines. What to do with these previously-productive sites when the minerals have long been extracted, and reclamation efforts are still continuing?

Mining companies need to think outside the box and look forward to transforming these areas into renewable energy generators. Many of these sites can take advantage of local renewable resource attributes to produce power while returning the land to productive use.

Working in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RE-Powering Initiative has propelled renewable energy development on contaminated lands. According to the EPA, since the initiative’s inception in 2008, more than 150 renewable energy installations on 144 contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites have been established throughout 35 states and territories, representing a combined 1,046 MW of capacity.

Contaminated and Abandoned Mine Land Site Benefits:

There are several reasons why previously contaminated and AMLs make exceptional locations for clean and renewable energy development.

  1. Utility-scale solar energy projects require access to large, open sites, and the size of many AMLs means that large solar arrays can be accommodated at a single property.
  2. AMLs offer thousands of acres of land, and may be situated in areas where the presence of wind and solar structures are likely to gain public support.
  3. These lands have existing electric transmission lines and capacity and other critical infrastructure, such as roads, and are adequately zoned for such development. The avoided new infrastructure capital and zoning costs is often significant.
  4. Whether it is a long-term lease or outright purchase, these lands may have lower overall transaction costs than greenfield projects, due to the relative ease of acquisition of large swaths of land from one or few owners, versus acquisition of greenfield sites from potentially numerous landowners.
  5. Redevelopment of brownfields for “green” energy production can help reduce the stress on greenfield sites for construction of new energy facilities, and can provide clean, emission-free energy.
  6. Many AMLs are in areas where traditional redevelopment may not be an option because the site may be remote, or may simply be saddled with environmental conditions that are not well suited for traditional redevelopment such as residential or commercial.
  7. Many sites such as industrial, manufacturing, and mining sites were once operations that provided jobs for the local communities. However, once these facilities ceased operations, these same communities were left with fewer jobs. The development, operation and maintenance of renewable energy facilities on these same sites may reintroduce job opportunities and economic growth.

Additional Renewable Energy Project Benefits For AMLs:

  1. Beneficial land reuse & sustainability
  2. Federal & State grant programs
  3. Federal & State tax incentives
  4. Clean energy, carbon credits, & greenhouse gas reduction
  5. Renewable energy credits
  6. Stakeholder acceptance & positive public perception
  7. Brownfields liability protections & limitations

The Summitville Mine was the first in the nation to get power from a community solar garden as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Summitville Mine Solar Project

Environmental Protection Agency Involvement with AMLs:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also very supportive of renewable energy projects on abandoned mine lands (AML). Mine sites where EPA’s AML Team has provided technical and community support include:

• ASARCO Mission Mine (Arizona)

• Brewer Gold Mine (South Carolina)

• Chevron Questa Mine (New Mexico)

• Chino Mine (New Mexico)

• Iron King Mine-Humboldt Smelter (Arizona)

• McKinley Mine (New Mexico)

• Summitville Mine (Colorado)

Renewable Energy Project Examples:

There are several examples of AMLs being used for renewable energy projects.

  1. The Pennsylvania Mine in Keystone, Colorado needed power for its reclamation efforts to stabilize residual mining waste. These efforts would normally require diesel fuel generators to power construction lighting, tools, sampling devices, electronic equipment and other devices for field operations, however, the EPA is using a hybrid solar-diesel generator to recharge equipment and power remediation activities.
  2. The ASARCO Mission Mine in Sahaurita, Arizona covers 29 square miles of an open-pit copper mine, about 18 miles south of Tucson. A renewable energy assessment was done in 2011, and in 2014 ASARCO, Tucson Electric Power and Clenera, LLC moved forward with plans for a 35 MW utility-scale solar array.
  3. A 66-turbine wind farm rated at 99 MW near Glenrock, Wyoming, now generates renewable energy where the Dave Johnston Coal Mine once operated as shown in Figure 2.
  4. The Tennessee Valley Authority installed 18 wind turbines on a former strip mine in Tennessee, the Buffalo Mountain project which supplies clean energy to roughly 3,400 homes annually.
  5. The Casselman Wind Power Project in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, started generating wind energy upon another closed surface mine with eight of Casselman’s 23 wind turbines sitting atop a reclaimed strip mine. The site can generate up to 34.5 MW of power for neighboring areas, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2: Dave Johnston Coal Mine Wind Farm

 

Figure 3: Casselman Wind Power Project

Copyright © March 2020 Ronald L. Miller All Rights Reserved                 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 30, 2020

So great to see these creative solutions-- not only ways to use the space, but manners in which jobs are created in communities naturally hurting as decarbonization increases

Ron Miller's picture
Ron Miller on Mar 31, 2020

Great opportunity to use an existing brownfield site vs. a new greenfield site for renewable energy and the sub-station and transmission is already there.

Christoph Riekert's picture
Christoph Riekert on Mar 31, 2020

Indeed Ron, brillant idea. Some of these mines could be well suited for solar if the dust issues are settled.

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Mar 30, 2020

Also, some mines due to their geological conditions could be used for compressed air storage during off-peak hours.

Ron Miller's picture
Ron Miller on Mar 31, 2020

Depending on the state and resource the mines could be storing energy during the daylight hours as more utility-scale solar farms come online and need a destination for their energy.

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