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New Life for Old Industrial Wastelands

In Massachusetts, a discarded coal-fired power plant will be turned into a logistics centre for offshore wind energy. In Germany, too, former coal mining areas could be converted to new life and promising regions using renewable energies.

Brayton Point (Image: Z22 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])Brayton Point (Image: Z22 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])

The Brayton Point Power Slant in Somerset, Massachusetts, was once the largest coal-fired power plant in New England on the east coast of the U.S. However, this came to an end almost two years ago. The dated power plant was closed down and successively demolished. Now new life is to be created on the site - in one of the very sectors that is responsible for the coal-fired power plant becoming unprofitable in the first place.

As the owner, the Commercial Development Company (CDC), and electric power company Anbaric announced this week, a large logistics centre for offshore wind power is to be built here. This will include a logistics port, manufacturing hub and support center that will drive the expansion of the offshore wind sector in the region. A 1200 MW high-voltage direct current (HVDC) converter will become the core of the Renewable Energy Center, an investment estimated at 250 million dollars. In addition, Anbaric will also start developing a 400 MW battery storage on site, which would require an additional $400 million investment.

This is what the Brayton Point site should look like once the transformation to an offshore hub has been completed (Image: Anbaric)

"The Renewable Energy Center represents Anbaric’s broader vision for its Massachusetts OceanGrid project: high-capacity transmission infrastructure to maximize the potential of the region’s offshore wind energy resource," says Edward Krapels, CEO, Anbaric. "As Massachusetts considers harnessing more offshore wind, the right infrastructure needs to be envisioned and set in motion. An HVDC substation is an important piece not only for Brayton Point Commerce Center, but also Massachusetts’ status as a leader in offshore wind."

Massachusetts sees itself as a future offshore wind center on the U.S. east coast. At the end of last year, three areas were auctioned off where wind farms are to be built in the future - it was only after 32 rounds of bidding that the winners of the auction were announced: Equinor, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind now have the right to develop up to 4.1 gigawatts of offshore wind power in each of the areas, as GreenTech Media reported.

Even the U.S. Department of the Interior was surprised by the success of this record auction, as Ryan Zinke, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior at the time, admitted and continued nonchalant: "To anyone who doubted that our ambitious vision for energy dominance would not include renewables, today we put that rumor to rest."

"Developing a landing point for 1200 MW of offshore wind at the site of a former coal plant physically and symbolically represents the transformation from fossil fuels to wind," Krapels continues. "While the South Coast has lost a coal plant, it’s quickly becoming the nexus of a new clean energy economy and emerging as one of the great energy stories in the world. This agreement is a symbol of the change that’s coming – and it promises to be a very powerful economic driver in the region."

The coal-mining regions in western and eastern Germany are still a long way from a new economic engine. The decision to abandon coal mining has only been made very recently, but there are already plans for further use of the areas.

A report commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology confirms that many former open-cast mining areas are excellently suited for the expansion of green electricity: "The areas are expected to present comparatively little challenge in terms of nature conservation and acceptance." However, Greenpeace Energy, a supplier of green electricity, calls for politicians to set the course now so that the former mining areas can actually be used for the expansion of renewable energies.

Simulation for the development of opencast mining areas for renewable energies (Image: Greenpeace Energy)

"In the meantime, the Federal Government itself has recognised that the expansion of renewable energies must be accelerated so that Germany can still achieve its climate protection targets," says Sönke Tangermann, CEO of Greenpeace Energy: "The lignite regions offer the potential for this and this should now be exploited quickly. Renewable energies can create new jobs and economic prospects in the lignite regions. In this way, they make a valuable and sustainable contribution to shaping ecological structural change for the benefit of the local population."

Above all, if the new wind and photovoltaic power plants are not only created in the form of conventional 'investor models' by large companies from outside but also as locally rooted citizen energy, the corresponding conversion could take place quickly. In this case, according to scientific studies by the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW), the number of jobs created locally by renewable energies and regional added value is likely to double once again.

This is one of the reasons why Greenpeace Energy has presented a catalogue of measures for politicians to legally secure the change. For Germany, this step would certainly be a plus point in making the energy transition visible to all: From an open coal mine to a local recreation area.

This is how the area in the Rheinisches Revier could look like (Image: Greenpeace Energy)

Katrin Radtke
Brayton Point, Massachusetts, coal-fired power plant, offshore hub, offshore, wind energy, conversion, energy transition, Greenpeace Energy, coal, USA, Germany, renewable energy, opencast mining area

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