Federal agencies will spend $35,000 to study how the former Farmland Industries site could one day support the production of renewable energy.
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would pay the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Laboratory to evaluate the possibility of putting some kind of renewable energy production on the empty Farmland site, which sits along Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of Lawrence.
The study will first determine what kind of alternative would work best on the site, such as geothermal, solar, wind or bioenergy, said Matt Bond, whom the city has designated as the project manager for the Farmland cleanup.
The EPA mentioned exploring the potential for producing alternative energy from plant-based materials, such as a biopower facility or a biorefinery.
“It’s a really logical place to consider something like that,” said Eileen Horn, the sustainability coordinator for the city of Lawrence and Douglas County who worked on the application. “And the good news is we can start day-dreaming and studying what the right application is for renewable energy while actively cleaning up (the site).”
For nearly 50 years, Farmland Industries manufactured fertilizer on the site. It closed in 2001, leaving behind contaminated groundwater and land. More than a year ago, the city took ownership of the property from the bankrupt Farmland, an acquisition that included an $8.6 million trust to clean the property.
In August, the Lawrence City Commission agreed to hire consultants to help the city develop a master plan for the 450-acre site. At that time, the commissioners urged the staff to consider working with consultants that could help develop the property as a “green-energy business park.” The hope was that the future industrial and commercial businesses at the park could actually use the alternative energy produced and it would be a marketing advantage.
As of now, 300 acres of the property are cleaned up and ready for development, Bond said.
The alternative energy study could take a year or longer to produce. The first step will be a meeting with the city and federal agencies that will determine what strategy to take. The remaining time will be spent gathering and analyzing data.
“It’s an attractive research tool to help attract businesses,” Horn said.
The study is part of EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative, which encourages renewable energy development on contaminated land. The Farmland project is one of 26 across the country.