Climate Change Stories

Mining the Sun: Benefits of Solar Energy on Former Mine Sites

An affordable path to repurposing former mine lands and brownfields into clean energy hubs.

An aerial view of an array of solar panels at a quarry near Byron California.
Sunny Futures solar array on a sand mine in Byron, CA. © Steve Proehl/Getty Images

If clean energy continues to be sited the way it always has been, the U.S. will need an area the size of Texas to meet our climate targets. Developing new large-scale energy projects on natural lands has long been thought to be the most affordable option, but it also can create local conflict and negatively impact nature.

Fortunately, there’s a promising solution. Mining the Sun, a report by The Nature Conservancy coming later in 2023, suggests that strategically siting new energy infrastructure on degraded lands like mining sites, landfills and brownfields can cost-effectively transform these sites into clean energy hubs that contribute significantly to the nation's clean energy goals.

The Mining the Sun report will provide resources for energy developers and landowners interested in building clean energy projects on mine lands, brownfields, and landfills. It will include overviews of relevant state and federal policies, economic analyses, community engagement principles and maps showing brownfield and mine sites viable for energy development.

Mining the Sun The Nature Conservancy shines light on how we can transform mines, brownfields and degraded lands into hubs for clean and green energy. This approach can grow jobs, revitalize local economies, and even benefit nature.

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The EPA RE-Powering America's Land initiative has identified enough mine lands, brownfields, and landfill sites to build half the solar capacity needed to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

An infographic about TNC's Mining the Sun report showing how former mines and other disturbed lands can be strategically transformed into wind and solar sites, providing reliable and affordable power.
Mining the Sun Solar energy on former mine lands and brownfields.

Mining the Sun in Action:

TNC is working with energy developers and landowners across the U.S.to test out Mining the Sun cost-reduction strategies. Here’s what we’re doing:

  • Selecting Ideal Sites: We are focusing on mine sites with favorable characteristics such as size, topography, and accessibility, which are well-suited for new clean energy development.
  • Streamlining Research: We are monitoring and researching opportunities to lower the overall development costs associated with transforming these sites into clean energy hubs.
  • Capitalizing on Incentives: We are leveraging various federal incentives to drive down costs, including:
    • Inflation Reduction Act: Taking advantage of the new 10 percent tax credit provided in the Inflation Reduction Act, specifically designed to promote development on mine lands and brownfields.
    • Tax Credits for Low-Income Census Tracts: Exploring opportunities to utilize tax credits for projects located in low-income census tracts, further enhancing the economic benefits to local communities.
    • Grant Funding: Submitting applications to the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Energy on Mine Lands program, which offers additional support for clean energy projects on former mine sites.

The full Mining the Sun report will be available for download in 2023. For more information on Mining the Sun, please contact Nels Johnson, TNC's Senior Advisor for Renewable Energy.