How do you reuse land contaminated with pollutants? Students in an urban planning course grappled with that question as they analyzed the potential of such sites in Delaware County for solar energy production. At the time, Assistant Professor Sanglim Yoo’s second-year Urban Planning studio class partnered with the Sierra Club’s Hoosier Chapter to complete the assessment. “It inspired me to look at brownfields back in my hometown of East Moline,” said student Michael Terronez. “Maybe I can present them with some ideas.” Terronez, whose minor is sustainability, said the class project helped blend his interests in energy and planning and solidify his future goals.

The immersive learning project named, Brownfields to Brightfields: Analysis of solar potentials of brownfields in Delaware County, Indiana, was funded from the provost’s office. The funds provided opportunities for students to travel throughout Delaware County and to Marion to see Indiana Michigan Power’s Deer Creek Solar Farm. The Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as properties compromised by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant for which expansion, redevelopment, or reuse is problematic. The term brightfields refers to solar arrays installed on brownfield sites. Estimates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory show converting brownfields to brightfields could supply up to 80 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2050.

Yoo praised the students’ effort in learning both the necessary planning skills such as land use analysis, mapping, and conducting site visits along with the study of solar energy issues and potentials. Students examined 19 sites in Delaware County, assessing each as a potential brightfield site. Those assessments include size, zoning, property ownership, solar radiation received, and estimated solar production. Distance to substations and transmission lines were other important considerations. “I’m really impressed and grateful to Professor Yoo and the class,” said Jodi Perras of the Sierra Club, the community partner for the immersive learning class. “The transformation from coal to renewable energy is happening, so this is important practical information for Delaware County to have.” Student Javan Johnson said he’d never heard of brownfields before beginning the project and wasn’t sure what to expect. He became excited and surprised by the team’s discovery of a potential site that was already partially owned by the utility company, making the location an ideal candidate for conversion. Classmate Jack Treber had expected to find Indiana behind the curve on renewable energy and was happy to learn about initiatives in the Hoosier state. Student Sarah Murray said she enjoyed using GIS mapping software to plot the sites. Like Johnson, she couldn’t define brownfield or brightfield before the class. “I definitely know now!” she said.