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Transforming Ugly Government Properties into Renewable Energy Assets

Updated: Jun 26

Aerial photograph of a solar farm on government property

In an era where sustainability is more than just a buzzword, the potential to turn unproductive or underutilized government properties into valuable renewable energy assets is a game-changer. This approach not only aligns with environmental goals but also offers government and public landowners a lucrative avenue to generate revenue. By leasing unused or underutilized land for renewable energy projects, governments can maximize property value, minimize risks, and contribute to a greener future.

The Potential of Government-Owned Land

Many government agencies hold properties (land, rooftops) that are either underutilized or entirely unused due to previous uses that make future development on the property difficult. These properties, ranging from old landfills to contaminated spill sites and properties with inactive oil and gas wells, may seem like liabilities at first glance. However, with the right approach, they can be transformed into productive assets that generate significant income.

Generating Revenue from Government-Owned Land

Leasing government land for renewable energy projects is a win-win strategy. Instead of allowing properties to sit idle and incur maintenance costs, governments can lease them to renewable energy developers for clean energy production. This not only generates steady revenue through lease payments paid by these developers, but also reduces the financial burden of maintaining these properties.

For instance, consider a former landfill site that isn't possible (or very costly) to clean up for traditional use. By leasing this land for a solar farm, the government agency that owns that landfill can turn this potential liability into an asset. The long-term, reliable income generated from the lease payments can be reinvested into community projects or used to further improve other government properties.

Maximizing Property Value and Minimizing Risks

Government agencies are often wary of the risks and liabilities associated with land management. However, converting unproductive land into renewable energy sites can significantly reduce these concerns.

Minimizing Liabilities with Renewable Energy

Renewable energy projects come with several incentives, particularly from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the United States. These incentives can make it financially viable to transform contaminated or otherwise problematic sites into clean energy hubs.

For example, the IRA provides tax credits and grants for renewable energy projects, which can offset the initial costs of setting up solar or wind farms. By taking advantage of these incentives, governments can minimize their financial risk while maximizing the value of their properties.

Great Sites for Renewable Energy Projects on Government Properties

When it comes to renewable energy, the notion of "desirability" takes on a new meaning. While prime real estate locations are always in demand, renewable energy projects can thrive on less sought-after properties as well. Not all properties are created equal, especially when it comes to renewable energy projects. Certain types of "ugly" properties are particularly well-suited for transformation into productive renewable energy assets, including 'ugly' land, rooftops, and even parking lots.

1) 'Ugly' Land

Unsightly properties situated next to electrical infrastructure, such as substations, are often unattractive for residential or commercial development. However, these locations are ideal (and very valuable) for renewable energy leasing. They provide an excellent opportunity for solar panels or wind turbines to seamlessly connect to the electrical grid, transforming the generated energy into usable power.

2) Former Landfills

Former landfills offer a unique opportunity for renewable energy development due to their typically vast, open spaces and the impracticality of other development types. These sites, once deemed unusable, can be repurposed into solar farms. Solar panels can be installed on the surface of capped landfills, turning a problematic site into a source of clean energy. This not only generates revenue but also helps mitigate the environmental impact of the landfill. For these reasons, landfill solar farm development is becoming more common across the United States.

3) Brownfield Sites

Brownfield sites, defined as land previously used for industrial or commercial purposes and possibly contaminated by hazardous waste, are another category of underutilized properties suitable for renewable energy projects. These sites are prime candidates for solar energy projects as they are typically unsuitable for residential or commercial redevelopment without significant remediation. The conversion of brownfields into solar farms can mitigate the site’s environmental challenges while contributing to green energy production, making the transformation a strategic move for both economic and environmental sustainability.

4) Abandoned Industrial Sites

Abandoned industrial sites, including defunct factories and uninhabited warehouses, represent another ripe opportunity for renewable energy projects. These structures often possess large rooftops suitable for solar panel installations or expansive grounds for wind turbines. Tapping into these spaces for energy development not only revitalizes neglected areas but also creates jobs and stimulates local economies. Additionally, it helps to reduce urban blight and repurpose existing infrastructures without the need to further encroach on undeveloped land.

5) Contaminated Spill Sites

Contaminated spill sites, characterized by their past exposure to hazardous materials or chemical spills, typically pose a significant challenge for redevelopment. However, these sites can be effectively repurposed for renewable energy projects. Installing solar panels or wind turbines on these lands can sidestep the extensive cleanup costs associated with making the site suitable for more traditional developments. Moreover, by leveraging the area's contamination status, developers and government agencies might be able to take advantage of specific grants or incentives aimed at rehabilitating polluted areas, such as the EPA's Superfund program. This approach not only mitigates the negative impacts of the contamination but also contributes to the green energy grid, turning a dormant, polluted property into a contributor to the community's sustainable energy infrastructure.

6) Abandoned Mines

Abandoned mines are yet another category of underutilized land that can be repurposed for renewable energy projects. These sites often span large areas and are isolated from residential zones, making them ideal for the implementation of solar farms or the establishment of geothermal energy projects. The vast open spaces of surface mines can accommodate extensive solar arrays, while underground mines offer the potential for geothermal energy extraction. Repurposing abandoned mines for renewable energy not only addresses environmental legacies but also stimulates economic revitalization by creating job opportunities and generating continuous revenue streams for local communities. Furthermore, transforming these former extraction sites shifts their narrative from resource depletion to sustainable energy production, contributing to a greener future.

7) Oil and Gas Well Sites

Oil and gas well sites, typically in remote areas, can be transformed into renewable energy locations after extraction activities end. These sites often have existing infrastructure like cleared land and access roads, making the switch to solar or wind energy more cost-effective and less disruptive. Repurposing these sites aligns with circular economy principles, giving old industrial sites new life. Integrating renewable energy projects on former oil and gas sites uses the land efficiently and aids in cleanup, addressing environmental concerns of the fossil fuel industry. By converting these sites, communities can move from non-renewable to sustainable energy sources, paving the way for a resilient, eco-friendly future.

7) Rooftops

Rooftops, especially those on government facilities, offer accessible and efficient spaces for renewable energy installations. Solar panels on rooftops can harness sunlight to produce electricity at the point of use, reducing transmission losses and boosting energy efficiency. Urban areas, with their dense buildings, have great potential for rooftop solar projects, which can significantly contribute to a city's energy needs. Additionally, rooftop solar panels can provide property owners with financial incentives, such as lower energy costs and possible tax benefits, while supporting environmental goals. This approach maximizes space use and seamlessly integrates renewable energy into the urban landscape.

8) Parking Lots

Parking lots offer a vast, often underutilized space that can be transformed into renewable energy hubs. By installing solar canopies, these areas provide shade and protection for vehicles while generating clean energy. Solar installations can offset the electricity needs of nearby buildings like shopping centers, offices, or apartments. This approach maximizes developed land use, reducing the need to clear natural landscapes for solar farms. Additionally, integrating renewable energy into parking structures can include benefits like electric vehicle charging stations, promoting green technology adoption.

By identifying and repurposing these undesirable properties, governments can turn potential liabilities into assets while breathing new life into underutilized properties. This strategy not only maximizes the utility of government-owned land, but also mitigates the risks associated with traditional commercial real estate development projects.

Real Examples of Successful Government Renewable Energy Projects

Government agencies across the United States, from states and counties to cities and universities, are actively contributing to renewable energy production by using their properties for solar or wind energy. A few of these examples include:

  • The Department of Defense (DoD) has been a frontrunner in utilizing their underutilized properties for renewable energy projects. They have set goals to produce or procure 25% of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2025, with many successful projects already in place, including a solar development on the rooftop of the Pentagon.

  • In California, the City of Santa Rosa has transformed an old landfill into a solar farm, providing clean energy for local residents while avoiding the cost of capping and maintaining the landfill.

  • The State of New Mexico has leased 3 properties for clean energy production over the last 2 years, which includes solar and wind farms. By working with LandGate, New Mexico was able to connect with renewable energy developers to lease these 3 properties at no cost to them.

Incentives and Benefits Encouraging Renewable Energy Development on Government Properties

Government agencies looking to transform their properties into renewable energy assets have several incentives available and benefits to consider:

Leveraging the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers a range of incentives for renewable energy projects, including tax credits and grants. These incentives can make it financially viable to repurpose underutilized government land for renewable energy. By taking advantage of these opportunities, governments can minimize their financial risk and maximize the return on their properties.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

Beyond financial incentives, renewable energy projects offer significant environmental and economic benefits. By converting unproductive land into clean energy hubs, governments can reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to national and global sustainability goals. This not only enhances the reputation of government agencies but also provides tangible benefits to the community.

Does Your Government Agency Have Underutilized Property?

Transforming unproductive, ugly government properties into valuable renewable energy assets is a strategic move that benefits both the environment and the economy. By leasing land for renewable energy projects, governments can generate revenue, minimize risks, and contribute to a greener future.

For government agencies looking to get started, the first step is to identify suitable properties and explore the available incentives. LandGate's data helps with site prioritization by showing government property owners the best sites within their portfolios for renewable energy production, while our marketplace offers government property owners the opportunity to advertise these available properties directly to a high-intent network of renewable energy developers actively looking for government-owned properties to lease.

Ready to take the next step? Schedule your free consultation call with the government team at LandGate today:


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