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ENERGY POLICY
A Site Selection Web Exclusive, October 2010
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WEB Exclusive story

How Energy Parks Can Energize
Economic Development

Energy Parks are a smart and sustainable asset for areas with surplus industrial property. A Charlotte park under development is leading by example.

Energy Policy
by SCOTT CARLBERG

E

conomic developers are well aware of the value of industrial parks. The same concept can be borrowed to address another important facet of economic development: The growing need for electricity, which could jump by a third by 2030 according to some studies.

The concept is 'energy parks.' Multi-functional energy sites are being explored on various scales using various technologies. Learning about and strategically using the energy park concept can bolster economic development and support a wide array of industries.

Energy parks are an evolving concept, and the definition is still a fluid one. "The energy park model starts with an existing post-industrial site with infrastructure," says Lisa Lee Morgan, managing partner of CalorEnergy, a renewables consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C. "Site redevelopment uses the infrastructure and integrates new technologies in renewable energy, waste recovery, water treatment and reuse into a sustainable industrial asset for the community."

Some of the infrastructure assets on a checklist for an energy park location, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, include:

  • Land
  • Buffer zones
  • Structures/equipment
  • Roads
  • Rail lines
  • Transmission facilities
  • Steam
  • Natural resources (e.g., surface or ground water)
  • Site environmental characterization data

Large government sites can already have security features in place, too.

While these assets may be traditional, an energy park's end-game is far from conventional. Morgan characterizes the final product as an eco-industrial park, because carbon-free or low-emission generation is emphasized with an efficiency kicker.

Energy sites have been fairly one-dimensional — a coal or gas plant producing electricity, for instance. Energy parks purposefully expand the technical functionality of a site. It's a mix of facility types and purposes. For example:

  • Generation can be from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, nuclear, clean fossil or hydrogen generation. By definition, this list shows that energy parks can be small or large.
  • Distribution: Smart grid technologies can be incorporated into new facilities.
  • Storage: The developing systems of mass energy storage can be tested and refined.
  • Manufacturing: Sites can align with other light energy manufacturing, such as solar panels, wind turbines and energy conservation materials.

Tapping into the benefits of an energy park requires careful analysis, incorporating the important assets of a region to aid growth. "It's like an industrial park, where natural competitive advantages — local policy, labor, geographical — are incentives for this specialized business to locate and where a more efficient supply chain develops," says Bill Linton, an energy business development expert in Greenville, S.C.

Think non-traditionally when envisioning an energy park. For example, in Charlotte, a proposed energy park, called ReVenture Park, plans to delist a 667-acre (270-hectare) Super Fund location that was a textile dye manufacturing site that is largely remediated. When complete, the site will house a biomass power facility fed by refuse-derived-fuel, a solar array, a state-of-the-art waste water plant, greenway thread trail and space for light manufacturing and offices for energy and environmental small businesses.

Post-industrial sites abound. The EPA estimates that there are approximately 490,000 sites and 15 million acres (6 million hectares) of potentially contaminated property across the U.S., including Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Brownfields and abandoned mine sites.

Energy parks also mean jobs, a key factor when so many communities are struggling with unemployment. Charlotte's privately funded ReVenture project, for example, will take a site that employs fewer than 30 people to a potential of 1,000.

Careful implementation of the energy park concept provides benefits beyond routine economic development, including:

  • New, clean energy and a clean energy industry, including supply chains
  • Integrated approach to energy production, distribution, storage and utilization
  • Energy production close to major industry users
  • Potential R&D for the next generation of energy production
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Reduced emission of greenhouse gases for new energy
  • Liabilities turn into assets
  • Models that can be applied to other sites

The economic development cycle of energy parks, according to Bill Linton, "… would result in a flow of capital back into the region. This economic profit can feed on itself creating more investment in assets, competency and supply chain development, and more exports."

The catalyst for energy parks is not just economic development. Linton notes, "Energy security is national security. We are too dependent on foreign energy sources. Add to the mix the fear of shortages, advancement of technologies for producing energy, available Department of Energy assets — due to reduced military missions — and there are a lot of possibilities. Why can't we produce more energy of our own?"

Perhaps Lisa Lee Morgan sums up the opportunity for America when it comes to energy parks: "The landscape is littered with post industrial real estate, often in an urban area or an immediate suburb location. These sites can be brought back to a productive life and provide a new service for our nation."

 Scott Carlberg is principal of Talking Points LLC – Public Affairs and Project Management (www.TalkingPointsusa.com), Charlotte, N.C.


Story in Pictures

The ReVenture Park site plan as of September 21, 2010, courtesy of Forsite Development, Inc., Charlotte, N.C.

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