News & Resources

Groundwork USA and MAPC host Brownfields to Brightfields workshop on solar energy and equitable development
May 27, 2021 | |

With support from EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization, Groundwork USA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) are collaborating to explore Brownfields to Brightfields (B2B) as a strategy to revitalize polluted land, promote solar energy, and advance equitable community development. B2B projects repurpose brownfield sites – land with known or potential hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants – with solar and other renewable energy installations on ground-mounted arrays, building rooftops, or canopy structures. There is great potential for these projects to create local benefits, especially in low-income communities and communities of color that disproportionately suffer from industrial pollution, disinvestment, and vacancy; lack access to clean energy resources; and, face severe climate change impacts and risks.

Over the past year Groundwork USA and MAPC engaged in extensive research – including 14 stakeholder interviews with municipal staff, state and federal agencies, community organizations, and renewable energy developers – to better understand the opportunities and challenges surrounding B2B projects. These efforts informed the production of a B2B research memo and culminated on May 20 with a virtual “Brownfields to Brightfields: Unlocking Solar Energy and Equitable Community Development” workshop, with over 70 individuals from the aforementioned sectors in attendance. A recording of the workshop is available here. Workshop speakers and presenters shared models and real-world examples of B2B projects that advance equity and community benefits, introduced Groundwork USA and MAPC’s newly created mapping tool for identifying potential B2B sites in Massachusetts, and began to lay the groundwork for future B2B project partnerships.

Brownfields to Brightfields Workshop

Speakers included:

After Burrington’s welcoming remarks about the need to ensure sustainable land use and equitable community benefits as part of solar development efforts, Strine provided compelling arguments for pursuing renewable energy projects on contaminated lands and highlighted the important role of state policy in enabling B2B projects. Curti provided an overview of different types of equitable B2B project models and shared resources to support practitioners, King, Entin, and Ribiero each provided examples of equitable B2B projects in action, and Spence introduced the B2B mapping tool for Massachusetts to provide insight into future project opportunities.

Here’s a snapshot of what we learned:

  • State policies are enabling opportunities for B2B projects.

During the keynote address, Lora Strine, Team Leader for EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative, discussed the emerging trends in B2B strategies and highlighted the growth of such projects across the country. Lora emphasized the important role of state policy in enabling B2B projects, pointing to Massachusetts’ revised permitting processes and regulations to facilitate solar development on landfill and brownfield sites.

  • Local cities and communities are often the driving force behind the development of B2B projects.

Emil King, Analyst for the DC Department of Energy and Environment, spoke about how the development of the Oxon Run community solar farm not only provided an innovative use of a degraded 15-acre brownfield site but also delivered free electricity (offsetting $500 annually per household) to approximately 750 local low-income households via community solar.

Lena Entin, Training Coordinator for Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, shared the story of how Holyoke, MA went “From Coal to Sol.” With the support of Neighbor to Neighbor, low-income Latino residents organized to retire the Mount Tom coal-fired power plant and replace it with the largest solar installation in the state – removing the biggest environmental health threat in the city.

Lori Ribiero, Vice President of Business Development at Mill Creek Renewables, spoke of her work when she was with the City of Brockton to develop one of the first B2B projects in the country in the early 2000s on a former manufactured gas plant – a project that in addition to providing power generation, continues to serve as an educational resource in the community even today.

  • Partnerships are essential to the development of successful and equitable B2B projects.

Julie Curti, MAPC Clean Energy and Climate Strategy Manager and Senior Planner, shared the B2B research memo findings that point to four equitable B2B project models: equitable engagement, community shared solar, community benefits agreements, and solar-accessorized sites. She also shared additional resources in these categories (see links below), and highlighted ways that municipalities and community partners can collaborate to support B2B development efforts, ranging from engagement and convening to procurement and B2B site aggregation.

* Groundwork USA Equitable Development/Brownfields Planning resources

* MAPC Community Engagement resources

* MAPC Community Shared Solar resources

* MAPC Solar Contracting & Best Practices resources

* Institute for Local Self-Reliance Equitable Community Solar report

* Department of Energy Guide to Advancing Opportunities for Community Benefits through Energy Project Development

Additionally, MAPC GIS and Planning Analyst Caitlin Spence introduced a new mapping tool for identifying potential B2B sites in Massachusetts. This online platform enables municipal officials, state agencies, renewable energy developers, and community organizations to assess brownfield sites in Massachusetts for B2B project suitability and to better understand the opportunities for community benefits from these projects. In addition to spurring B2B projects in Massachusetts, Groundwork USA and MAPC hope this tool also helps to inspire similar B2B mapping efforts in other states.

After the presentations ended, workshop participants joined concurrent breakout sessions on the following topics: Brownfields Remediation, Grassroots Organizing for a Just Transition, Equitable Solar Development, Massachusetts Solar and Brownfields Policy, and B2B Mapping Tool for Massachusetts. All the workshop speakers and presenters actively participated, with additional presenters joining from EPA Region 1 (New England), MA Department of Energy Resources, MA Department of Environmental Protection, and Resonant Energy to lend their expertise.

Thanks to the MAPC and Groundwork USA team, the speakers and panelists, and the webinar attendees for a great conversation around B2B strategies and the future potential of these projects to equitably address a range of environmental justice issues. The full recording of the webinar can be found here. Groundwork USA and MAPC are currently following up with workshop participants to gauge their interest in future B2B collaboration. Feedback received will help guide the creation of additional B2B resources in the coming weeks that are relevant for B2B practitioners across the country. Groundwork USA and MAPC invite you to reach out if you’re interested in staying engaged with our B2B work or sharing your B2B ideas and needs. We look forward to staying connected as we continue to explore these issues more deeply.