Climate Change Stories

Mining the Sun: Clean Energy on Mines and Brownfields

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Aerial view of a solar array.

Report finds that mines and other brownfields are an untapped resource for accelerating the clean energy transition.

Renewable Energy Transition 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, slowing down the clean energy transition.

Fortunately, there’s a promising solution. Mining the Sun, a report by The Nature Conservancy, suggests that siting clean energy infrastructure on degraded lands like mining sites, landfills and brownfields can be a win-win solution for climate, conservation and communities.

The Mining the Sun report tells us the benefits of building clean energy projects on mine lands, brownfields and landfills. It offers two case studies of solar projects being built on mine lands that TNC has helped catalyze and includes overviews of relevant state and federal policies, economic analyses, community engagement best practices and maps showing brownfield and mine sites viable for energy development.

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Explore the Mining the Sun Report

Repurposing mines and brownfields for clean energy can reduce costs, accelerate the clean energy transition and protect wildlife habitat.

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Quote: Nels Johnson

Renewable energy development on mine lands is an exceptionally promising avenue to produce clean energy in a way that respects communities and local landscapes.

lead author of the Mining the Sun report
What is Mining the Sun? (1:07) 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.

Nationwide, there are about 500 renewable energy projects sited on brownfields and mine lands—a fraction of what’s possible.

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 The Nature Conservancy’s Mining the Sun Initiative outlines the major potential for siting clean energy projects on mines and brownfields across the country. Due to contamination and other factors, these lands have limited development potential and might otherwise sit vacant. Repurposing mines and brownfields represents a major opportunity to advance clean energy projects in a way that has the potential to deliver real benefits to nearby communities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds that mine lands and brownfields could supply up to 1.3 million MW of solar energy, enough to power most homes in the U.S. if all available lands are developed.

Explore the Map

TNC has created a navigable map that shows where mines and brownfields exist.

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Identifying Lands for Clean Energy Development

Worldwide there are an estimated 25 million acres of active and inactive mine lands, enough to accommodate a large amount of renewable energy development. The Mining the Sun national webmap shows where lands, including former mines and brownfields, in the U.S. already exist. This navigable map goes one step further outlining lands that are suitable to renewable energy development so energy developers, utilities and state and federal energy offices can easily identify lands that minimize impacts to nature. 

A map of the United States showing the overlap between brownfields, solar suitability areas and suitable mine lands.
Mining the Sun National Map Mines and brownfields typically have several features that can make them attractive for new clean energy projects from existing infrastructure and transmission access to benefits for neighboring communities.

TNC has catalyzed several Mining the Sun projects, showing that it’s possible to build financially viable new renewable energy projects on these sites. Click below to explore Mining the Sun projects in action.

Mining the Sun in Action

Explore Mining the Sun resources, projects and opportunities in key states.

Quote: Scott Alexander

For decades, our miners labored at Starfire to provide the energy that powered this country. To think that the site can be reimagined as a new energy producer, facilitating hundreds of millions in private capital investment, and the creation of a skilled workforce in green energy is truly exciting.

Perry County, Kentucky Judge Executive
Image of green and brown mountain landscape.
Starfire Starfire Mine, formerly one of the largest coal mines in the U.S. will be the new site of a solar energy center. When completed, it will be the largest renewable power project in Kentucky and one of the largest in the nation to be built on former mine lands, representing a $1-billion infrastructure investment. © TNC
× Image of green and brown mountain landscape.
Disturbed mine lands in Nevada surrounded by desert and mountain landscape.
Nevada has long been associated with the sun and solar energy. But many people don’t know that Nevada is the number one hardrock mining state in the nation, with large gold, silver and copper mine lands peppering the state. Caselton Mine (pictured here) near Pioche, Nevada is a brownfield site proposed to be used for solar development. © Bridget Bennett
× Disturbed mine lands in Nevada surrounded by desert and mountain landscape.
Starfire Starfire Mine, formerly one of the largest coal mines in the U.S. will be the new site of a solar energy center. When completed, it will be the largest renewable power project in Kentucky and one of the largest in the nation to be built on former mine lands, representing a $1-billion infrastructure investment. © TNC
Nevada has long been associated with the sun and solar energy. But many people don’t know that Nevada is the number one hardrock mining state in the nation, with large gold, silver and copper mine lands peppering the state. Caselton Mine (pictured here) near Pioche, Nevada is a brownfield site proposed to be used for solar development. © Bridget Bennett

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Get Started: Read the Mining the Sun Report

Ready to get started on a Mining the Sun Project? Download the report to learn more.

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