Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Greening of Brownfields

photo via Exelon Corporation site

Stop the presses! Chicago is the Second City no longer! At least not in the realm of environmental initiatives, that is. I personally thought the segment on this Brightfields Initiative that has come to fruition in the West Pullman neighborhood on Chicago's far south side was more of a headline story than an end-of-broadcast blurb, but these days, I'll take my good news any way I can get it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the EPA's Brownfields Initiative, Brownfields sites are perhaps better known as former Superfund sites. These sites, even after successful cleanup and remediation, are ill suited for most types of developments. For example, no one would want to purchase a Brownfields site and build a subdivision or an elementary school, or cultivate a community garden because -- despite even the most successful cleanups -- these sites are still heavily contaminated, it's just that the amount of contamination has been reduced to acceptable EPA levels. So the Brownfields Initiative exists to find viable uses for this spoiled land, such as turning it into a parking lot, or building a big-box warehouse or retail location (with provisions made, of course, for importing potable water).

The Brownfields to Brightfields Initiative takes this task one step further and put solar panels on these undesirable pieces of real estate, which brings clean energy, jobs, and (eventually) power savings to the surrounding communities. And in this, Chicago is leading the nation! Not only is Exelon City Solar the largest urban solar power plant in the country, it's also the first of its kind!

The 32,000 solar panels, which were sourced and manufactured from south side companies, are equipped to follow the rays of the sun as it makes its way across the sky, and will generate enough power to power 1,500 homes. Exelon has leased the 40-acre Brownfield site from the City of Chicago in a long-term deal, and according to the EPA:

"The City of Chicago and Commonwealth Edison have jointly committed $8 million to purchase solar systems in the next five years. The solar systems will be installed on other [B]rownfield sites as well as schools, office buildings, transportation routes, and municipal and commercial properties."

Exelon City Solar will also serve as a demonstration and educational site for other cities that want to harness the power of the sun. So let's hear it for Chicago, solar energy's First City!

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