Transforming Brownfields for a Greener Future
A Former Iron Ore Mine in the Adirondacks Will Be Repurposed for Renewable Energy
New York is rapidly transitioning to an electricity system powered by renewable energy sources. This transformation requires suitable locations to install solar arrays and wind turbines, as well as responsible renewable project siting that balances clean energy development with other land uses, especially conservation and agriculture.
Benson Mines project site location.
Siting renewable energy projects on brownfields, landfills, and other underused spaces represents an advantageous reuse solution that can deliver local jobs, revenue, and clean energy for communities and landowners. Such development, sometimes referred to as brightfields, is poised for 172 acres of former industrial land at the Benson Mines site in St. Lawrence County. Once complete, the 12-megawatt (MW) project will be among the largest solar installations in the Adirondack Park’s 6-million-acre territory.
Benson Mines was formerly the largest open pit iron-ore mine in the world, directly supplying steel mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio by rail and employing up to 1,000 people at its height in the 1950’s before ceasing operations in 1977. Soon, the former mine site will be delivering enough clean energy to power around 3,000 homes.
As of October 2022, only 502 renewable energy projects have been installed in the U.S. on brownfields, landfills, or mine sites. New York ranks third among states for brightfield projects.
Clean Energy is Complementary to Economic Revitalization
Although iron ore hasn’t been mined there for decades, the Benson Mines site holds promise for economic growth in Star Lake and the region. Today, Benson Mines Inc. operates construction aggregates and sustainable timber harvesting on the 3,500-acre industrial property, which features around 1,500 acres of harvestable timberland.
However, one of the property’s tailings piles lacked the same redevelopment potential as the rest of the property. The process of extracting iron ore from 1941 to 1978 left behind a tailings pile, which consists primarily of crushed sand, limiting the suitable reuses for this portion of the acreage.
This helped position Benson Mines for a new use: clean energy. The industrial-zoned property allows large-scale solar development – a rarity in the largest protected environmental area in the contiguous United States. Additionally, the proximity to roads, limited onsite vegetation, and availability of transmission and distribution infrastructure make Benson Mines ideally suited for solar development.
Through NYSERDA’s Build-Ready Program, the Benson Mines project will be competitively auctioned to private developers to construct and operate a solar array for 20 years. The project is anticipated to support 50 to 75 construction jobs and up to 5 permanent positions.
For Benson Mines Inc., the solar project will diversify its business portfolio from construction aggregates and timber harvesting and provide a bridge in financing new investments.
The 12-MW Benson Mines project also helps move the needle toward New York State’s climate goals, namely achieving 70% renewably sourced electricity by 2030. The project also makes a significant contribution to the 223-312 MW of renewable energy capacity the Adirondack Park Agency estimates is required to meet household energy usage in the Adirondack Park.
Streamlining Renewable Energy Development
While brownfields and former industrial sites like Benson Mines have advantages for renewables, the associated development hurdles often deter commercial solar development.
“The APA is excited to help repurpose portions of this industrial site into a productive clean energy facility that will bring good jobs to the region, generate clean energy, and contribute to the State’s nation-leading Climate Act.” - APA Chair John Ernst
This is where the Build-Ready program comes in. Once a site is nominated or identified, NYSERDA conducts an evaluation to assess its viability for renewable energy and address potential development challenges early on to ensure projects have a greater probability of success. From there, the Build-Ready program supports municipalities through the permitting, design, and interconnection process, before it goes to competitive auction.
Regarding the Benson Mines project, the permitting process spanned around 8 months, including approval by the Town of Clifton, St. Lawrence County, and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to move forward with solar development.
Partnering with Local Communities
NYSERDA’s hands-on support for communities goes beyond the processes required to get renewable energy projects installed and connected to the grid. The Build-Ready program also helps communities create a customized benefits package in tandem with the project development.
Host community benefits can be tailored based on local needs and priorities. For example, a benefits agreement could fund the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in the community, tapping into locally sourced clean energy.
Communities can also forge payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements with developers, which direct annual payments to municipalities that can be reinvested into the community.
The Benson Mines solar project represents the first Build-Ready project. NYSERDA is accepting site nominations from elected officials, community members, private companies, or other interested parties.
Priority is given to previously developed sites, existing or abandoned commercial sites, brownfields, landfills, former commercial and industrial sites, dormant electric generating sites, and other underutilized areas.Learn More About the Build-Ready Program
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022). (rep.). RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative: Project Tracking Matrix. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-11/re_on_cl_tracking_matrix_oct_22.pdf [PDF] . Back to content
- Mills, R. (2022, September 28). The time is ripe for communities to embrace clean energy on brownfields. RMI. https://rmi.org/time-for-communities-to-embrace-clean-energy-on-brownfields/ . Back to content
- Adirondack Park Agency. (2021, November). Solar Planning Memorandum. https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/High-Peaks-Advisory-Group-Report_final.pdf [PDF] . Back to content
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